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Biden and Putin Begin High-Stakes Meeting in Geneva Soon; E- mails: Trump, Allies Pushed DOJ to Probe False Election Claims; More than 50 Million Under Heat Alert in Western U.S.; Expert: U.S. Must Keep Vaccinating and Testing. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 16, 2021 - 04:00   ET



FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, my name is Fred Pleitgen I'm coming to you live from our set in Geneva in Switzerland with CNN's special coverage of the historic summit between President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

And we are just a few hours away from the highly anticipated meeting between the U.S. and Russian presidents, one of the most crucial in recent times. Relations between the two nuclear powers have plunged to new Cold War era low in the past couple of years and this is a big opportunity to cool down the tone and make some progress on common interests, if progress could indeed be made.

Now, Vladimir Putin is expected to arrive here in Geneva in about two hours, maybe a little more, and he will head straight to the lake wide villa la Grange. He is set to arrive there before President Biden. Ahead of the summit we've seen these adversaries take a couple of swipes at each other. Mr. Biden did not back down calling his Russian counterpart a killer and Mr. Putin went out of his way to praise former president Donald Trump.

Now, President Biden has just wrapped up meetings with NATO, the EU and the G7 and they are part of a concerted effort to shore up western support ahead of this summit. Our own Phil Mattingly has more.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've said, we'll focus (INAUDIBLE) that America is back, and which is why we're here in full force.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden capping off a week designed to reinvigorate America's closest alliances delivering a resolute message.

BIDEN: Europe is our natural partners. And the reason is we're committed to the same democratic norms and institutions. And are -- and they are increasingly under attack.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): A message repeated directly nearly two dozen conversations with key U.S. allies in the G7, NATO, and today, the E.U. One carefully calibrated to be carried into the high stakes moment of his first foreign trip, his sit-down Russian President Vladimir Putin.

BIDEN: That's how to prove that democracy and that our alliance can still prevail against the challenges of our time and deliver for the needs and needs of our people.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Biden arriving in Geneva for that sit-down, with relations between the U.S. and Russia at their lowest point since the Cold War. The two leaders set to participate in at least two meetings, a smaller sit-down with Biden, Putin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov participating, followed by an expanded discussion with five-member delegations.

The two leaders will not share a meal, officials say, and the talks are expected to last roughly four to five hours. The day will close with individual press conferences by each leader, an intentional decision by U.S. officials in an effort not to elevate the Russian leader.

The U.S. agenda is lengthy, and it will be delivered with clear intent, officials say, from firm warnings on cyberattacks, the imprisonment of opposition leaders and aggression in Ukraine, to areas of potential cooperation, like Afghanistan, arms control, and the Iran nuclear deal.

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): But everyone those areas of potential cooperation will come with significant skepticism from the U.S. side.

BIDEN: I'd verify first and then trust.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Even as Biden signals begrudging respect for what Putin, a leader who has confounded U.S. officials for decades, will bring to the room.

BIDEN: He's bright, he's tough, and I have found that he is a worthy adversary.

MATTINGLY: And it's worth noting that even though the two teams, U.S. officials, Russian officials have been in intense negotiations over the course of several weeks about how this sit-down would actually be structured. Two senior administration officials say both sides agree to kind of include some flexibility in terms of how the schedule will play out.


And what does that mean? It could mean the two leaders may consider having a one-on-one meeting at some point. It doesn't mean they necessarily will, but the administration officials making clear they want the two leaders to gauge how the entire process will and should go based on the substance of their conversations, based on progress or lack thereof that is occurring at the time. It's just something to keep in mind, to some degree they understand that, yes, there are two meetings set on the books. Yes, they think it will be four or five hours. But once the two leaders get in the room, if things are going well and if they believe there is an opportunity to delve deeper into a subject area there is a real possibility things may move in a different direction. It is realtime diplomacy at work.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, Geneva.


PLEITGEN: And both leaders have said they want more predictable, more stable relations with one another and we will wait and see whether or not they can achieve that at this meeting. I want to bring in our own White House reporter Natasha Bertrand who has a lot of insight into how President Biden has been preparing for the summit. Natasha, we talked about it a little bit in the last hour, but what do you think that President Biden's view is of Vladimir Putin and what he's going to face from the Russian leader today?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, so this is not the first time that President Biden has met with Vladimir Putin. He met with him while he was vice president in 2011 and he really likes to tell aides the story of how he looked at Mr. Putin and he told him directly, look, I don't think you have a soul. And that of course is a riff on what George W. Bush had said to Vladimir Putin two decades earlier saying that he looked into his eyes and he saw his soul. Well, President Biden does not believe that he has a soul. He really likes telling aides that he feels like he can read Vladimir Putin.

He also likes to tell aides that he believes that Vladimir Putin responds to signs of strength and that is why he will be going into this summit very clear-eyed and being very frank with the Russian leader about what the U.S. expectations are for the U.S./Russia relationship.

Now he's been preparing extensively as we mentioned for this summit. He's been meeting with top Russia experts, with his Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. But ultimately Biden believes that Putin is a rational actor, that is according to several aides, current and former officials who have worked with him on foreign policy issues, particularly Russia extensively. He believes that Putin will act in his best interest, in the best interest of his country. And whether that means cooperating further with the U.S. remains to be seen. Obviously, that is going to be a big point of discussion here at this summit is where they can work together on certain issues, on certain narrow issues, for example, in the Middle East, on the Iran nuclear deal, on climate change. And whether they can come to some sort of agreement on the best way forward for the relationship writ large.

The president of course feels like he is able to speak very bluntly to Vladimir Putin, he says that he will not back down, but of course he also knows that Putin is susceptible to flattery. So I think we will see a mix here in approaches by President Biden.

PLEITGEN: Thank you for that, Natasha. Of course, we'll be getting a lot more reports from you today as this day and of course as this summit unfolds as well.

I want to turn now to my next guest Luke Harding who is the author of "Collusion, Secret Meetings, Dirty Money and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win." He's of course also a foreign correspondent with "The Guardian" and joins me now from London. Luke, thank you so much for taking the time to join us.

I don't know if you had the chance to listen to Natasha there, who said that President Biden believes that Vladimir Putin is a rational actor but the big question is what exactly the rationale is. What is Vladimir Putin willing to negotiate on? And I want to turn specifically to the cybersphere because it seems as how with some of the cyberattacks that have been going on, the disinformation campaigns that have been going on, it really seems as though Vladimir Putin views the cybersphere as sort of an equalizing factor for Russia when they are economically really and militarily in many ways inferior to the west.

LUKE HARDING, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN: Yes, I mean, Fred, I think that goes to the heart of the challenge that Russia poses to the international community. If you cast your mind back to the Cold War that it was tanks facing off in Europe and West Germany and so on. And I think really what Putin realizes is actually the new war is the war for the mind. It's the war for informational space. And we've seen a series of really quite devastating attacks by Moscow against America and its allies, including of course the spectacular operation to help Donald Trump win in 2016. Which you mentioned most recently the SolarWinds hack last year.

And my sense is actually regardless of the outcome of this summit and expectations are extremely low, I don't see the Kremlin stopping this. It's cheap, it's deniable, it discomforts the main adversary which is the way that Russia still views the United States. And unless there are really hard consequences spelled out by Joe Biden today I think this kind of stuff will continue.

PLEITGEN: It's been so interesting because of course the Russians have said that they want an initiative together with the U.S. to work in cyberspace to fight against cyber criminals. So you think that's all talk.


HARDING: Well I mean, I think it's been called -- I wrote a previous book called "Mafia State," and it's clear that actually the stakes, the government, the bureaucracy and organized crime are basically the same quasi criminal organization. If Vladimir Putin wanted to rein in domestic cyber criminals he could do it in a phone call. And of course he chooses not to do it because it embarrasses and weakens his adversary. I mean that's how he sees it.

And the other thing of course is deniable. I mean Putin is very good. He's very arch at saying that rogue actors inside Russia are not formally connected with the state. Now, you know, formerly that's true but actually of course it's a lie. It's one of many lies. And so I think we can expect a press conference later on today where he says we had constructive talks, we want good relations. But behind the scenes, of course, he will be liaising closely with his spy agencies, with the GRU, Russian military intelligence has been sending assassins all over the place with the FSB, with SVR foreign intelligence. I'm pretty certain that these kind of malign operations which are so problematic for western leaders including Joe Biden will continue.

PLEITGEN: And of course one of the things we know that Vladimir Putin really fears in Russia is instability and of course, you know, we have seen a rise in demonstrations against Vladimir Putin, anti-government demonstrations if we look, for instance, to the far east of Russia in Khabarovsk. Although there were some local issues there involved as well.

One of the big things that Joe Biden wants to bring up or one of the things he wants to bring up is of course Alexei Navalny. Do you see any room for Vladimir Putin not necessarily negotiating but even acknowledging that could be an issue between these two leaders? Important for the United States, but Vladimir Putin seems to be brushing it off.

HARDING: Yes, I mean, that's right, Fred. And you will note from his interview earlier this week with NBC that once again he refused to mention Alexei Navalny's name, he called him that person, and I think for Putin it's personal. I mean if we believe Bellingcat, the investigative unit, if we believe western intelligence they are convinced that Putin authorized this operation to poison Navalny in Siberia last summer with Novichok, an absolutely lethal toxic agent also used in Salisbury, in England, in 2018.

Navalny survived, he recuperated in Germany. He flew back to Moscow in an incredibly brave act and of course then he was swiftly arrested. And you know, my fear is that the more Joe Biden presses this the less productive it will be because if the international community is invested in Navalny's release, for Putin that's a kind of -- that's an affront. And I'm pretty certain that Navalny will stay behind bars regardless of what Joe Biden says today.

PLEITGEN: All right thank you very much for that. Luke Harding there for us in London. Thank you for at that taking the time this morning to speak to us.

And Rosemary, as you can see, I mean there's so many difficult topics on the agenda. There may be some where there might be mutual or shared interest where the two leaders believe they could, you know, may not necessarily find a compromise but at least talk to each other about these issues and find a common ground on these issues. But there are some where it really seems that there are hardened positions on both sides. Of course, Alexei Navalny's fate being one of them. Ukraine, of course, being another big one as well. We are going to keep an eye on all of them as the day unfold -- Rosemary.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, and so much ground to cover too. Fred, we'll come back to you very soon, many thanks.

And still to come here on CNN NEWSROOM, the new batch of e-mails showing how former President Trump and his allies pressured the Justice Department to try to overturn the 2020 election.

Plus temperatures are forecast to hit all-time highs this week across the Western U.S., including Phoenix where it could hit 118 degrees by Friday. The latest on the historic heat wave that's sizzling more than 50 million Americans.



CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well newly released emails from the House Oversight Committee show how former U.S. President Donald Trump and his allies pressured top Justice Department officials to investigate false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election. Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was among those Trump allies. CNN's Jessica Schneider has the details.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Newly released e-mails reveal how President Donald Trump's allies pressured then acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to investigate false allegations that the 2020 election had been stolen.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): As Trump repeatedly made the false claims in the weeks after the election, e-mails show repeated efforts from White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to justice officials, asking them to probe questionable reports about voter fraud around the country and even a conspiracy theory floated by an ally of Rudy Giuliani that Italy was using military technology and satellites to somehow change votes.

Rosen rejected the efforts, e-mailing his deputy Richard Donoghue, "I flatly refused, said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his witnesses and reaffirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this."

When Meadows later sent Rosen a YouTube link about the Italian satellite conspiracy, Rosen forwarded it to his deputy, who responded with the words "pure insanity." The e-mails also show Meadows push DOJ to investigate fraud claims being made by Trump ally Cleta Mitchell, the lawyer who is on that call with Trump January 2 when he pressured Georgia officials to find him votes.

TRUMP (via phone): So, look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more that we have because we won the state.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): One day before that call, Meadows e-mailed Rosen saying there were "allegations of signature match anomalies." In Fulton County, Georgia, asking justice officials to investigate.


Rosen forwarded the e-mail to Donoghue and said "Can you believe this? I am not going to respond to the message below."

It wasn't just Meadows, the e-mail show Trump's assistant sent Rosen and Donoghue a document claiming voter fraud in Antrim County, Michigan. And private attorney Kurt Olsen contacted DOJ with a draft lawsuit challenging the election results and asking for a meeting. His e-mail said, "I have been instructed to report back to the president this afternoon after the meeting." It doesn't appear the meeting ever happened.

Days before the January 6 insurrection, after weeks of pushing back against claims from the president's allies, another DOJ official wrote in an e-mail, "It sounds like Rosen and the cause of justice won."

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is on the Judiciary Committee and pledged an investigation into the efforts.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): They were using the power of the White House, the executive, but to undermine our separate but equal powers. We as a Congress cannot stand for that. And you can be assured a deep investigation may result in actions that will move this to a criminal realm.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): But Republican Jim Jordan says the e-mails from Trump's allies were perfectly appropriate while the response wasn't.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): That is a problem. When the president -- when the chief of staff to the president United States asked someone in the executive branch to do something and they basically give him the finger, I think that's the problem we should be looking into. But that's not what the Democrats going to look into.

SCHNEIDER: Despite Congressman Jordan's objections the House Oversight Committee wants answers. Democratic Chairwomen Carolyn Maloney has sent letters to Meadows, Donohue and DOJ official Jeffrey Clark who was reported to have met with President Trump in the weeks after the election. Now Maloney is seeking all of their testimony before the committee. As for Mark Meadows, he declined to comment on the e-mails when our CNN producer Ali Main spotted him at the Capitol.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: The Biden administration has announced a new strategy to combat domestic terrorism. Their goal is to build a national framework for the government and law enforcement to share domestic terrorism related information, and to prevent future terror attacks. The U.S. attorney general tied the new policy directly to the insurrection at the U.S. capitol in January.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The resolve and dedication with which the Justice Department has approached the investigation of the January 6th attack reflects the seriousness with which we take this assault on a mainstay of our democratic system, the peaceful transfer of power. Attacks by domestic terrorist are not just attacks on their immediate victims, they are attacks on all of us collectively aimed at rendering the fabric of our democratic society and driving us apart.


CHURCH: But the plan has its critics, like the ACLU which says -- and I'm quoting here -- we are deeply disappointed that the administration failed to impose safeguards against biased profiling, overbroad law enforcement information sharing and other measures that harm free expression and equal protection, including the very communities that white supremacists target.

In Arizona firefighters are losing ground against a massive wildfire that's already burned nearly 57,000 hectares. And if that wasn't enough Western states are sweltering under a record breaking heat wave. CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has more.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning, Rosemary. It is really incredible when you think about the long duration event here in place with the excessive temperatures and as you noted all-time records being set. Look at this, on Tuesday 107 degrees in Salt Lake City, Utah, that not only sets the daily record but ties the all-time hottest temperature ever seen in the city -- of course that includes the month of June. And you've got to look at Salt Lake City because records here have been standing since 1874, records have been kept since that time. That's 50,000 calendar days only three times has it ever been as hot as it was on Tuesday. Of course, the widespread coverage of it seen in Sharon, Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming as well, where all time temperatures were observed.

And in Las Vegas the heat has been on in recent days, the last four days temps have been near or above 110 degrees, all time hottest on the strip in Vegas 117 degrees, 116 is what is expected on Wednesday afternoon. So again, speaks to the incredible rare nature of this heat and important to note summer in the northern hemisphere doesn't start until Sunday.

So again, widespread coverage, massive dome of high pressure, with that sinking air, warms that air by compression so we are he seeing widespread coverage of it underneath this dome where the hot air is essentially trapped. And we expect this to continue through at least Saturday, maybe even into Sunday. And in this period upwards of 275 records could be set across the Western United States.


Las Vegas, notice over the next week, temps finally cool off to 4 degrees above average at that point, that's 104 this time next week. And in Phoenix climbing up to 118 degrees before trying to cool off into early next week. And again, over 50 plus million Americans, approaching 60 million Americans there, underneath these excessive heat alerts with temperatures in places such as Death Valley, California, nearing 130 degrees -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Thank you so much for that, Pedram.

Well the CDC is now calling the Delta variant -- first identified in India -- a variant of concern. They believe the variant to be more transmissible than the regular strain of COVID-19. 5Vaccines, treatments and tests that can detect it also may be less effective. The U.S. surgeon general says it's one more reason to get vaccinated and other experts agree.


VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: The vaccines that we have do appear to be effective against the Delta variant. But you have to get both doses of the mRNA vaccines and the study that was done two doses of Pfizer gave you 88 percent protection, but one dose gave you only 33 percent. So the key is get vaccinated, get both doses.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: All states will be wise to continue testing because we don't want to make the same mistake that we did at the beginning of the pandemic. My concern is that the pockets of the country that have low vaccination rates actually also don't have robust public health infrastructure. They are already scaling back testing and reporting on the number of new cases which I think is a big mistake.

The last thing that we want is for -- is to have a repeat of the problems from earlier on in the pandemic where every one case turned out to be the canary in the coal mine and meant that we were missing so many others.

And so, reopening may be the right thing to do, I think it's good for us to resume our pre-pandemic lives. Continue to increase vaccinations in the meantime but also don't forget about testing, contact tracing and those basics that are really important to controlling this disease.


CHURCH: And the U.S. doesn't have a handle on it quite yet, the country now has surpassed more than 600,000 COVID related deaths. That's almost as many as the number of soldiers believed to have died in the American Civil War. According to Johns Hopkins University, only eight other countries have reported more than 100,000 COVID deaths.

And we now return to our special coverage of the Biden/Putin summit. Our Fred Pleitgen is standing by in Geneva. Over to you, Fred.

PLEITGEN: Thank you very much, Rosemary. And coming up we have a topic that Russia most certainly wants to avoid but that almost certainly will be raised. And that is human rights and the fate of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. President Biden of course has been very, very outspoken on that topic. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: It would be a tragedy. It would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world in my view and with me.