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London Tower Fire; Special Counsel Investigating Trump; Shooter Targets Congressmen. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired June 15, 2017 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Also, U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly under investigation for possible obstruction of justice.
WALKER (voice-over): And a congressman is in critical condition after he was shot during an attack on a Republican baseball practice. What we know about the shooters motives.
VAUSE (voice-over): Hello, great to have you with us for another hour. I'm John Vause.
WALKER (voice-over): And I'm Amara walker. This is NEWSROOM L.A.
VAUSE: We'll start this hour with the massive fire which has gutted an apartment building in West London. At least a dozen people are confirmed dead but there are fears that number will almost certainly rise.
WALKER: Our colleague, Max Foster, is at the scene now, where there are still so many questions about this tragedy. Max, what's the latest?
MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Amara, right now officials say it's too early to speculate on what caused the fire at Grenfell Tower and one of the biggest concerns is that we still don't know just how many people are missing.
We've heard from a number of people who have friends and loved ones who live here and they've not heard from them since the fire broke out early on Wednesday morning.
What we do know is that London's fire brigade has rescued at least 65 people so far from the tower; almost 80 people are being treated in hospitals; 18 of them are still in critical care.
Prime minister Theresa May is promising a full investigation into what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Once the scene is secure, once the recovery is complete, then an investigation will take place into the cause of the fire and if there are any lessons to be learned.
But until then our focus must be on ensuring that the emergency services have what they need to continue with their harrowing work and that help and support is being provided to all those who have suffered as a result of this tragedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOSTER: While many residents are angry, it has to be said, they say they have expressed concerns for years about the fire safety levels at the tower and now there are questions about whether recent renovations to the outside of the building caused the fire to spread more quickly.
Fred Pleitgen reports.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The first fire crews that arrived at the Grenfell Tower said they were surprised at how quickly the flames were spreading, eating their way up the side of the high-rise so fast many couldn't escape in time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A kid was screaming, you know, save my child, things I don't want to repeat but they were screaming in stress.
PLEITGEN: They were trapped in the building.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were trapped in the building. They were under duress.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): But in all the sorrow, serious questions about the building's emergency plan and its safety. The most recent guidance by the office managing the property from a newsletter to residents from 2014 telling occupants to stay in their apartments if there's a fire.
That guidance, while not uncommon for high-rises, may have proved deadly in this case.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now the lights in the fire escape (ph) didn't work the first 10 floors so it was in complete darkness. There was just -- there was no evacuate -- the evacuation procedure was to stay in your property.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): A local advocacy group went even further, repeatedly calling the building's fire safety inadequate in the past years after the local council invested millions refurbishing the tower.
Writing in its blog on Wednesday, "All our warnings falling on deaf ears and we predicted a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time."
Residents who escaped the blaze and other witnesses say they believe the cladding on the building's exterior may have fanned the flames. The company that installed the cladding on the exterior of a London apartment building said in a statement that it is not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower.
A councilwoman telling CNN she believes local authorities are not to blame.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, people have been flagging up their concerns about this building but, as you probably know, we've just -- the council has just done a 3 million refurbishment on it during which obviously we hoped and we felt, with our contractors, that we had dealt with all those concerns.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): The main contractor for the refurbishment said that the work met, quote, "all the required building control fire regulation and health and safety standards."
This community has been devastated by the Grenfell Tower fire, many residents still unaccounted for and, for those who escaped, all are now displaced.
PLEITGEN: The authorities say here for the moment their main priority is still dealing with the fire and its aftermath. But they acknowledge that the many people who were affected will have some serious questions and that officials will need to provide honest answers.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): And as the grief mounts, so does the anger. Many here feel that authorities they believe neglected their concerns until tragedy struck -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, London.
FOSTER: Well, it really is amazing to see how people have rallied around those who --
FOSTER: -- survived this horrifying event. CNN's Phil Black has been speaking to many of the survivors.
And today they are having to piece together their lives literally, Phil, because they have got very little left.
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Right. That's exactly right, Max. There are the practical concerns here. We're told that everyone has been given emergency accommodation.
And also there was the way that this community has rallied together to support the people who have suddenly lost everything. A short distance from where I'm standing there's a support center, where there's quite literally a mountain of donated goods, from food to basic necessities to things to help people with babies and children and so forth.
It's really quite an extraordinary sight to see. There's a wall that has already been set up, a dedication wall, if you like, where people are writing messages of condolence and support.
So there is so much that this community has to deal with because, of course, it was just such a traumatic evening for the many people, both trapped in that building and those who were trapped around the building and who could do nothing but watch, feeling that sense of helplessness as they watched people in peril.
Take a listen now to just some of the stories that emerged from that terrible night.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Inside, we didn't know what's going on because nothing came inside and we didn't know, no alarm, no water, nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've just spoken to a lady there, there was -- there was, on the 21st floor, there was six of them and they're running down and she's lost her daughter, her 12-year-old daughter and (INAUDIBLE) find her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, they were waving, they were shining torches, just making any sort of move that they could to let someone on the ground know that they were still in the property.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of dead bodies, a lot of kids and a lot of dead bodies that were all on the floor. They were obviously covered up. But there were a lot of people that did not make the fall.
BLACK: Of course, Max, as you've touched on, the suffering for the people around here, well, that is still ongoing, especially for those who are enduring that terrible necessity of waiting, those who have lost contact with loved ones, people who are unaccounted for.
These are people who are, at this stage, you'd have to think, waiting for confirmation of what they most fear. And that is why the authorities here are still talking with some certainty about that confirmed death toll of 12 people rising further still -- Max.
FOSTER: Phil, in terms of the investigation here, I mean, where are we going with this?
Because there seem to have been so many different errors along the way here or potential errors.
What's the focus on them?
BLACK: Well, it's on the building, obviously, to a significant extent, to what extent it was fireworthy, particularly in the wake of its recent renovation, which we've been hearing about.
We know that authorities are prompting to review other buildings that are either undergoing similar renovations or have undergone similar renovations recently, to try and ensure that there are no risks to those tower blocks across London, of which there are many.
And generally speaking, there is a promise, from the prime minister down, at every level of British officialdom really that this will be looked at very, very closely to determine what lessons can be learned to ensure that this sort of tragedy isn't repeated -- Max.
FOSTER: OK. Phil, thank you.
Well, Ian Henderson (ph) works closely with the Grenfell Tenants Association and has friends still missing, he joins us, as does local resident Piers Thompson (ph).
Can I just ask you first of all, just describe where you were and what unfolded for you yesterday.
PIERS THOMPSON, LOCAL RESIDENT: Well, I woke up at about 1:15. I live just around the corner there. I work up at about 1:15 and heard voices. I thought someone was breaking in next door.
So I opened the curtains and, of course, then saw the fire, which, at that point, was licking on the left-hand corner of the building. My wife called the fire brigade. We called friends of ours in the tower and got hold of one. He was out by then.
And then we watched mesmerized, really, as over, say, 15 to 20 minutes, the whole of the fascia of the tower that was -- we were looking at --
THOMPSON: -- just -- it went up like tinder. I mean, it was like on fire (INAUDIBLE).
FOSTER: And you saw some of the thing unfold but a lot of focus on that cladding on the outside of the building. Just describe how you think that affected things
IAN HENDERSON, HEAD, SAVE THE SUTTON ESTATE: Yes, I don't think it was just the cladding. The reports are, when the building was refurbished, they removed the fire blocks in between each floor of the building and never replaced them.
And the building had also been having power surges so what they reckon happened is that there was a power surge. The guy's fridge blew up and then when the fire started, there was obviously no fire protection in place.
FOSTER: This is all part of the investigation, isn't it. We shouldn't --
FOSTER: -- jump to too many conclusions because we don't know who's to blame here, if someone is to be blamed.
The fire brigade couldn't get into the building to fight it from inside, crucially --
HENDERSON: That's right, yes. Yes, absolutely. I think what you have to say, already the investigation hasn't gone ahead but as in with all these cases of all these regeneration projects -- and it's happening all across London, residents are fairly active and they're telling these property developers or councils that, you know, you're making mistakes. This is the wrong way to do.
And Grenfell Residents Association have been banging on the council for years, saying there's going to be a fire, people will die in that fire.
And when that happens, is that the only point that you're actually going to wake up and do something about this?
FOSTER: What do you -- (INAUDIBLE) for that.
But how aggressive were complaints locally about the safety of the estate?
THOMPSON: There had been rumblings about that building now for about two years about fire safety and, in fact, throughout North Kensington, the local council, which is run by the Conservatives, has been relentlessly pursuing a kind of privatization, regeneration, which means demolition, monetization of everything against the wishes or the needs of the local residents.
And if you've been watching that building go up in 15 to 20 minutes, you'd know that building was not fit for purpose and someone made a huge error somewhere along the line.
FOSTER: But not necessarily -- I mean, there are lots of different agencies involved here.
HENDERSON: I think when you look at the fact that the deputy leader of Marlborough (ph) and Kensington and Chelsea is a property developer --
FOSTER: Yes, but --
FOSTER: -- we've got the investigation we shouldn't --
HENDERSON: -- no, but he lives around the corner from the estate so you would think, as we do, we care about our local people who live around us and we would want the best safety measures put in there. There was no sprinkler system put in that building.
FOSTER: One of the other things that I've heard is there was a gas piping put through the central shaft as well. (INAUDIBLE).
THOMPSON: There have been people muttering about something about a gas pipe going in. I mean, I think the real problem is, when they clad that building, that was a classic old brutalist '60s building.
And it -- when they clad it, they put it at a right angle over these corners, leaving a gap. So it was like a chimney, like for a backdrop.
HENDERSON: That's exactly right.
THOMPSON: And what you saw, as you were watching gas (ph) from out your bedroom window, is suddenly the flames shot all the way up the side of the building as though it had gone up a flue or --
FOSTER: And then it came back down, didn't it, went over the top and came back down.
THOMPSON: And then it rolled sideways, taking the cladding out. (INAUDIBLE) up like paper. There was a brief moment while it waited to get around the next corner and then another plume of flame went up and around it went and (INAUDIBLE) the next (INAUDIBLE) cladding.
FOSTER: A lot of the social tenants waited years, didn't they, to get one of these flats. Now they have got to find new flats, the council have got to find them.
And how much of a struggle is that today, as people try to put their lives back together?
HENDERSON: Well, I think it's a big struggle and I'm a bit worried about the competency of the council because as you saw yesterday, there was no coordinated effort from the council.
The fire services and the police were excellent and the ambulance people. And we just want to say thanks very much to them and particularly to the firemen who crawled along the 17th floor and phoned our friend and caught him by with the leg as he were staggering through the corridor with a towel on his head.
So those guys were just outstanding. And the local community were outstanding. But there was no council services there to coordinate all these local efforts.
FOSTER: It's quite chaotic, wasn't it, at the time.
How are all your friends coping today?
Where are they staying?
How are they managing to --
THOMPSON: Some of them are sleeping in the West Way. Some people --
THOMPSON: The West Way Sports Centre around the corner there.
Some people are in accommodation in hotels, which the council seems to have rustled up somehow. I mean, there was still a lot of people missing and (INAUDIBLE) there will be a terrible, terrible roll call today as we discover who didn't make it out of that building.
And that's -- you know, that will be the next wave of emotions and then we've got to have the grief. And after the grief and after everyone has been buried and mourns, that anger will resurface.
And we will be looking to find someone to hold accountable for this because 100 people maybe, people said, may have lost their lives and you know, there were a number of agencies involved.
But at the top of the pile is the cabinet of the local council, the leader of the local council, the deputy leader of the local council are all very intimately involved with a lot of this decision-making.
FOSTER: We're waiting to hear from them today, also the prime minister, the leader of the opposition's calling for answers as well so we're going to be following all of that response from this. The sports club, we were just hearing about that here in West London, it has become this shelter for victims of the fire.
People have donated food and clothing and bedding, really anything that they have to try to help. And, in fact, so much came in at one point and they had to stop people bringing it in, didn't they. It was extraordinary.
CNN's Nina dos Santos has more now on the community coming together to help.
NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: Across parts of West London, community centers like this one, less than half a mile away from the Grenfell Tower, have been opening up their doors to offer people what shelter they can as well as the basic essentials that they will need for their first night outside of their homes.
Members of the community have been arriving right throughout the course of the day in large numbers, well into the night, offering water, food, clothing, anything that people may well need.
And they have also been offering accommodation in their own homes as well, across buildings like this. You'll see message boards with people putting their phone number down, saying I have a spare room for you to borrow for today, for as long as you may need it.
And that's offering some small comfort to those who have been so badly affected by this terrible tragedy -- Nina dos Santos, CNN, West London.
(END VIDEOTAPE) FOSTER: People have been so generous the borough is now tweeting its thanks and telling people no more offers of housing are needed for the fire victims.
If you would like to help, though, we do have a list of organizations whom you can help. Just head to CNN's "Impact Your World." We're at cnn.com/impact. I'll have more from here, the investigation and how people are recovering, Amara and John, later in the program.
VAUSE: OK, Max. Thank you.
WALKER: A gunman opened fire on U.S. congressmen playing baseball. The latest on his apparent targets and motive -- just ahead.
VAUSE: Well, Donald Trump's legal problems may be about to get a lot worse. "The Washington Post" is reporting the Justice Department's special counsel is investigating the president for possible obstruction of justice.
WALKER: Robert Mueller was on Capitol Hill Wednesday, meeting with senators. And CNN's Anderson Cooper spoke with one of "The Post" reporters who broke the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADAM ENTOUS, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think you really need to understand that when Comey spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, he had assured -- he explained how he had assured Trump that he wasn't being investigated personally.
And so, what we've learned here is that, in fact, there was a change within the FBI and they were investigating him for potential obstruction.
And what we learned is also is that there were a series of interviews that the special counsel had arranged with top intelligence officials potentially as part of that investigation.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And based on your reporting, that change came about, as I understand it, because of the firing of Comey.
ENTOUS: Right. And, you know, obviously, Comey testified that that was his intention in leaking the memos, detailing his communications with the president.
And so, you know, it's -- what we learned is actually that this decision to open this file, if you will, on Trump was made actually before the special counsel was actually named, which is just a few days later.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER: A spokesman for the president's personal attorney says FBI leaks about the president are outrageous, inexcusable and illegal.
VAUSE: U.S. Congressman Steve Scalise could be facing more surgery after being shot and wounded at a baseball practice game. President Trump and first lady, Melania, later visited the hospital, where the Louisiana Republican remains in a critical condition.
WALKER: Mr. Trump sat by his bedside and spoke to his family. Afterwards the president tweeted, "Congressman Scalise is in tough shape but he's a real fighter."
VAUSE: Earlier in the day, Donald Trump praised the police officers who shot and killed the gunman and Mr. Trump offered words of encouragement for Congressman Scalise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We may have our differences but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation's capital is here because, above all, they love our country.
We can all agree that we are blessed to be Americans, that our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace, and that we are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER: Investigators say the gunman's Facebook page was filled with rants against President Trump.
VAUSE: CNN's Alex Marquardt has more now on what appears to have been a politically motivated attack.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The gunshots heard on this eyewitness video rang out from behind the third base dugout. This shaky cell phone video capturing the moment that witnesses say the shooter, 66-year-old James Hodgkinson, opened fire shortly after 7:00 am as the Republican congressional baseball team, including 22 members of Congress, was holding a practice.
REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: And I hear the big blam and I thought it was a car backfiring at first until I see the rifle barrel and a white male taking careful aim at congressmen, staffers, whoever he could get a hold of.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): The House majority whip, Representative Steve Scalise, was near second base. He was one of the first struck in the hip.
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: There was gunfire all around. Some have estimated 50-some shots. I think that's an understatement. It seemed to be a lot more than that. But for 10 minutes or so, we were trying to decide whether we would leave or take the injured.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): At 7:09, the first 9-1-1 call came in to Alexandria police.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still got shots being fired.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): Units arrived on scene within just three minutes, joining the firefight already underway between Hodgkinson and the three Capitol police officers assigned to protect Scalise.
BROOKS: I was able to hide behind the batting cage, make it to the dugout, take off our belt -- because one of our staffers was wounded. He was bleeding from his calf -- take off the belt. Another person and I put the belt as a tourniquet onto his leg.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): Members of Congress and others poured into the first base dugout as the gunfight raged.
REP CHUCK FLEISCHMANN (R): I got up and I ran and I dove into the dugout on the first base side, where there were several people in there --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a pile of you basically, right?
FLEISCHMANN: Absolutely. We were all trying to get to cover.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): Police officers, firing pistols, managed to take down Hodgkinson, who was armed with a long rifle.
REP. JOE BARTON (R): The shooter was not on the field and never got on the field. He stayed behind the third base dugout and came around behind home plate, got behind the utility shed and then darted out in front of the utility shed. And that's when he got shot.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): First responders quickly arriving on the scene, where the players had been tending to the wounded, including Scalise, who had crawled into the outfield.
FLAKE: I could see Steve Scalise out into the field. He'd dragged himself after he was shot from near second base about 10 or 15 yards into the field, just to be, I think, a little further away from the gunman.
But he was laying motionless out there. And so I wanted to get to him. But there were still shots going overhead from both sides. And so finally, when we heard that the shooter was down, I just ran low out to Steve and started putting pressure on the wound.
MARQUARDT (voice-over): A total of four victims shot: Congressman Scalise, lobbyist Matt Mika, Hill staffer Zack Barth and Capitol police officer Crystal Griner. The most critical airlifted from the scene as the remaining members of Congress huddled nearby. Police say the gunman is dead as members come to grips with what they witnessed.
REP. RODNEY DAVIS (R), ILLINOIS: We've got to end this. We've got to stop it because I watched my friend and my fellow member, Steve Scalise, lay motionless on the field, wondering if he was going to be OK. That is a picture I will never forget.
MARQUARDT: This horrific attack could have been far worse. The only reason those three Capitol police were there was because of Congressman Scalise, who is in the leadership and, therefore, he has personal security. None of the other 21 --
MARQUARDT: -- members on that field had any sort of security. so had Scalise not been there, it could have been what many are calling a massacre -- Alex Marquardt, CNN, Alexandria, Virginia.
WALKER: Let's bring in former FBI special agent, Bobby Chacon now.
Thanks so much for joining us.
Obviously a lot of the signs point to this attack being politically motivated, the shooter reportedly asking a congressperson before going on this rampage whether or not it was Republicans or Democrats who were on the baseball field.
So how are investigators going about this investigation right now?
What are the big questions that are being asked?
BOBBY CHACON, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, the big questions I think for me would be to see who else he's been associating with. He's been living, we understand, either alternately out of a van or at the local YMCA, where he's been known to hang out.
So you want to know who he has been frequenting with, who he's been associating with, hanging out with. You really want to know if, you know, it looks like obviously hopefully an isolated event from a deranged individual. And we can speculate on that.
But the investigators, they need to nail that down. They need to make sure. They don't have the luxury of saying, yes, this looks like what it is. They need to make sure that's what it is.
And so they are going to be looking at his friends and his family and any associates he's been hanging out with, people back in his hometown in Illinois, people who he might have been associating with here, you know, how recently did he move to the Virginia-D.C. area?
They're combing obviously his social media. I saw one quote today from him, where he actually mentioned Congressman Scalise by name in one of his posts.
So, I mean, they are looking at all of that. Mainly the big thing now is to see if he acted alone or if he had any counterparts or any associates, that, you know, harbored similar feelings.
WALKER: You talked about social media and the suspect's Facebook page is filled with anti-Trump posting, anti-Republican comments as well.
And you also have this one post, where he wrote, quote, "Trump is a traitor. Trump has destroyed our democracy. It's time to destroy Trump and company."
It almost sounds like a threat against the president. Obviously that would be a crime if that were a threat.
So the question is, you know, was this a missed opportunity or not, considering we live in a very polarized environment?
And I'm sure there's a plethora of angry social media postings out there and you can't flag every single one.
CHACON: Exactly right, that's exactly right. The -- in the old days maybe this would have been picked up by the Secret Service. But now with the polarization that we have and the advent of social media, where everybody is a keyboard cowboy and can go out there and be brave and say these things, it would be impossible to track everybody down and be thought police on the Internet.
You know, a guy like this, you're right, it would just be impossible.
WALKER: Bobby Chacon, we're going to leave it there. Really appreciate your expertise. Thank you very much.
CHACON: Thank you for having me.
VAUSE: And we have this just into CNN. Police say at least 19 people have been killed in an attack on a hotel and a restaurant in Mogadishu in Somalia. Islamists launched a car bomb apparently and opened fire on both buildings.
WALKER: Sources told Reuters that the security forces held hostages in the restaurant for several hours but security forces eventually took control after a shootout with those gunmen, killing five of them.
VAUSE: After the break, we will go back to London, where firefighters say they have never seen anything like the fire at a high-rise building. We'll have more on dangers they face while trying to save as many residents as possible.
[02:30:58] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.
AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Amara walker.
VAUSE: We are following three major stories this hour.
VAUSE: And we'll go to London now. Max Foster, live near the scene of that blaze.
And, Max, it was this time 24 hours ago that we were covering this fire, it was raging, and people telling horrific stories of being forced to jump from that building, others near -- essentially children trapped inside. And I guess now many people are sort of reassessing how they may have survived and what they have lost.
MAX FOSTER, CNN LONDON CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, I think anger is really flaring here as the building smolders. There's still a little bit of fire there but not seeing flames as we were this time yesterday.
Right now, so many questions about the horrific fire. We don't know yet how the high rise erupted in flames. And Prime Minister Theresa May promising a full investigation.
Meanwhile, we're hearing from witnesses and residents who lived through the terrifying incident. Erin McLaughlin shares some of their stories.
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A massive fire in West London had caught hold in a 24-story tower block that housed hundreds of people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard shouting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's getting bigger and bigger. What's going on here? I go to the front door. I see this fireball. I open the door, see what's going on. The neighbors are running out. People are screaming there's a fire. People are screaming, get out of the block, get out of the block. Half of the block was ablaze by the time it got done. And it was spreading like wildfire.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As soon as I run out, I see already the fire all on one side. Inside, we didn't know what's going on. Because nothing came inside. No water, no nothing. It was very shocking.
MCLAUGHLIN: 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters battled through the night to bring the blaze under control. Firefighters say they had never experienced anything like it.
UNIDENTIFIED FIREFIGHTER: I have never seen a fire of this nature before. It's a completely unprecedented nature. It will call for further investigation quite clearly.
SEDIQ KHAN, LONDON MAYOR: This is extremely depressing and devastating. Again, I say my thoughts and prayers, as I'm sure the thoughts and prayers of the entire country are with the family and friends of those in the building, affected by this tragic and horrific fire. MCLAUGHLIN: Witnesses described the chaos.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just horrific. It's so awful to see. I'm watching people at the windows, waving, and shouting for help and screaming. And then just see them engulf in smoke. And not knowing whether they were going to be safe or not. Or be able to get out. It was just horrible to see. Sad. We felt completely helpless. We just couldn't do anything.
MCLAUGHLIN: As politicians expressed their sorrow, families were evacuated to local community centers. Scores of people are being treated in hospitals across London. Many of them still in critical condition.
The fire is now under control. But the fear is that the death toll will continue to rise.
Erin McLaughlin, CNN, London.
FOSTER: London hailing its firefighters as heroes. And more than 200 responded to the scene here in West London and many rescuing people all the way to the top floors.
Officials say they have never seen a fire quite like it and commended the men and the women who risks who risked their lives to help.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FIREFIGHTER: As you can see, this is an unprecedented incident, and in my 29 years of being a firefighter, I've never ever seen anything of this scale.
[02:35:02] UNIDENTIFIED FIREFIGHTER: We intend to be here until the job is done. Working alongside my colleagues, my local authority colleagues, we will do everything we can to conclude this incident. We certainly intend to be here through the night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our firefighters have been all the way to the top of the building and obviously there are certain parts of the building that sustained substantial fire damage and we haven't been able to go out and we've searched every flaw within the building.
UNIDENTIFIED FIREFIGHTER: I've never seen a fire spread with that intensity. It was unprecedented. As the commissioner said this morning, it's been extremely challenging for our staff. And our condolences certainly go out to anybody affected by this fire here today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think what we've witnessed today is an unprecedented fire spread that firefighters weren't prepared for, would not have seen before. And I think they have acted heroically in their efforts to try to put the fire out and get as many people out of the building as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOSTER: Martin Kealy is the managing director and principle fire consultant at MKA Fire, and joins me now from England.
So many questions being asked today. No fire alarm. No sprinklers. The fire officers couldn't get into the internal shaft of the building. And then all of these questions as well about that cladding on the outside. Where would you start an investigation if you were heading this one up?
MARTIN KEALY, MANAGING DIRECTOR & PRINCIPLE FIRE CONSULTANT, MKA FIRE: It is a very unusual fire and I've never seen anything like it in 30 years in the area of fire investigations. The very unusual thing is that the fire was on the outside of the building and spread very quickly. And we've seen that in other places of the world like Dubai. But what we haven't seen is a building where every single apartment seems to go on fire at the same time, so it really is a huge horrendous fire that I've certainly never seen anything like it before.
FOSTER: In terms of how the firefighters responded, just describe this process where they were meant to be able to go into high rises from the inside and how that wouldn't have been possible and what you think might have been the case there.
KEALY: Normally, in the building there's a fire fighting shaft and they need to get to that firefighting shaft, which contain contains an elevator and so forth. And I don't know the details of how they couldn't get there. It would normally be a path with a from where the fire truck stops and where the fire lift is. There's usually a fire- protected corridor.
FOSTER: The tragedy there being that the standard advice is to tell people to stay in the apartment and secure fire doors and that only works if people have a way in and people were -- the survivors are the ones that defied the official advice.
KEALY: Yes. The official advice is to stay in place, but that's -- that is -- that doesn't work if the entire billing is on fire. That system only works if the fire walls and fire doors work correctly. If that doesn't work correctly, they be the stay in place is not the save routine. You would need to do as you do, get everybody out, but that's not possible in these types of buildings because the fire alarms are not linked together so there's no general fire alarm for the building, and that's normal.
FOSTER: If I could just ask you a bit more about the cladding. Obviously, this is very early level of the investigation. We don't know what cause the it and why it spread so quickly. And all eyes on cladding because the suggestion was that it was flammable or there was a vacuum there somewhere that pulled the fire up and over the top of the building and just explain what you've been looking for there if you were looking into that.
KEALY: Well, I've only seen videos on the television, and I can only compare that with what we've seen on previous fires so it certainly looks as though the cladding was combustible because you saw pieces of combustible cladding and fall on to the ground so we're seen that before. What we can't see is any other ways the fire may have spread up the build Pentagon, and that could be flues or chimneys as people put it. We don't know from what we've seen and was there fire floors or walls in the building that may or may not have been compromised. There's two routes for the fire and one is on the outside and one is on inside and definitely both of those need to be looked at.
[02:40:08] FOSTER: OK. Martin Kealy, appreciate your time.
Amara and John, the thing, you know, the very obvious thing here which is frightening people in this area but also people that live in similar blocks is, that you know, the refurbishment only finished last year. It was the modern refurbishment. It had been sign off on building regulations and yet this still. There's a problem there and people want to another whether or not they are safe in their town blocks.
VAUSE: Yeah, people are saying it's very odd to spend millions and millions of pounds on a facelift of a building but there was no requirement to install a sprinkler system or proper fire alarms, and a lot of suspicion on the exterior cladding which may have fueled the fire, but clearly the investigation into this fire has had a long way to go.
Max, thank you.
WALKER: Up next here on the program, former FBI Director James Comey told Congress one week ago President Trump was not under investigation, but a new report in "The Washington Post" says that's not true anymore.
VAUSE: Doctors say, Steve Scalise, the third-ranking Republican in the House, has undergone surgery for internal injuries and could be further operations after being shot by a lone gunman at a baseball field.
On Wednesday night, the U.S. president and his wife traveled to the hospital to meet with Scalise's family.
WALKER: The president also met with the U.S. capitol police officer who was also shot.
The congressmen were practicing for an annual charity ball game when the gunman began firing and police killed him at the scene.
Congressman Scalise was elected in 2008 in a special election, and since then, he has risen through the ranks to become the number-three Republican in the House.
VAUSE: CNN's Randi Kaye has had a closer look at his political career.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Representative Steve Scalise was doing what he loved when he was shot, playing baseball.
REP. STEVE SCALISE, (R), ILLINOIS: Feeling really good. We're defending the title, and we're bringing it, and we're coming with a hungry attitude.
We're competitive people by nature, and when you get to go out in a major league ballpark and play a kid kids' game, there was nothing like it.
KAYE: That was Republican Congressman last week.
He's well known for his love of the game, posting this on Twitter a couple years back, as he prepared for that year's big congressional showdown.
SCALISE: Thank you all for that.
KAYE: Scalise represents the first congressional district of Louisiana. He was elected to the House back in 2008, replacing Bobby Jindal, who ran for governor.
He later won a tough battle in 2012 to serve of as chairman of the most conservative bloc of Republicans, known as the Republican Study Committee.
In 2014, after House majority leader, Eric Cantor, lost his primary, Scalise jumped into the race. But during that campaign, questions were raised about a speech he gave to a group led by former Ku Klux Klan Leader David Duke back in 2002. Scalise told reporters, "I detest any kind of hate group. For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous."
[02:45:11] KAYE: He went on to be elected House majority whip, making him the third most-powerful Republican in the House.
(on camera): Congressman Steve Scalise is a staunch conservative, an advocate of fiscal discipline, lower taxes, and a robust national defense. He supported legislation that would establish English as the official language of the United States and that would de-fund Planned Parenthood. He's also worked to protect constitutional rights, like freedom of speech.
(voice-over): Scalise has often railed against Obamacare.
SCALISE: I think you're going to say a proud vote on the floor by a bunch of members ready to go and rescue people from Obamacare.
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: CO2 is --
KAYE: He's even tangled with Al Gore over the cap-and-trade energy tax.
And in 2010, after the B.P. oil spill off the coast of his home state of Louisiana, Steve Scalise was quick to take on the White House.
SCALISE: Where is the president? Does he not understand the magnitude of what is probably the worst environmental disaster in the country? And then we get mixed messages from his various cabinet secretaries who come down and they say it looks like they are satisfied with the coordination going on.
KAYE: He's a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump, who even recorded a birthday message for Scalise's daughter, Madison.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Madison, happy birthday. Listen to this man. He's a power, powerful man. Love him.
TRUMP: Listen to your daddy.
SCALISE: Listen to the president, Madison. Happy birthday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: Before joining Congress, Scalise graduated Louisiana State University and worked as a computer-systems engineer. He and his wife, Jennifer, have two children.
And despite his willingness to tackle tough issues, Congressman Steve Scalise never shies away from having some good old Louisiana-style fun.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
WALKER: Just hours after the shooting in Virginia, another shooting took place at a UPS facility in San Francisco. The gunman, identified as Jimmy Lamb, killed three people before taking his own life.
VAUSE: Two others were also shot, but were only wounded. Lamb was a UPS employee who was wearing his uniform when he opened fire. Investigators are still trying to find a motive.
WALKER: The probe into Russian election meddling reportedly is now targeting the president of the United States for possible obstruction of justice. According to "The Washington Post," special counsel, Robert Mueller, has expanded his investigation to include U.S. President Donald Trump.
VAUSE: That's a dramatic shift from when former FBI Director James Comey said Mr. Trump was not personally under investigation.
A reporter who helped break the story explained to CNN what has now changed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED "WASHINGTON POST" REPORTER: When Comey spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, he had -- he had assured -- he explained how he had assured Trump that he wasn't being investigated personally, and so what we've learned here is that in fact there was a change within the FBI and they were investigating him for potential obstruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: Back with us now, political commentator, radio host, Mo Kelly; and CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, John Thomas.
This is probably the last thing that the president wanted. It was his birthday on Wednesday. He turned 71. This could be a major turning point in the FBI investigation. Sources are telling CNN that Mueller's team plans to talk to senior intelligence officials soon about their role in the obstruction of justice case.
John, this is clearly everything the Republicans had feared about a special counsel and the investigation moving way beyond anything to do with Russia and last year's election.
JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: 100 percent. That is the risk this a special counsel needs to find something and if they can't get what, originally, they were tasked with, Russian collusion, seems to be no "there" there, at least as it relates to the president directly. The problem with this it's an unforced error, right? President Trump caused this on himself. And I think we're going to now publicly discuss what the word hope means and whether or not that is obstruction. The good news, I was telling Mo earlier --
THOMAS: Yeah. The good news is Trump doesn't do things behind closed doors that he doesn't do on his Twitter account and doesn't do it publicly, so at least we have an idea of what's going on.
WALKER: It's kind of ironic, Trump telling Comey to go public that he was not under investigation, and then he fires Comey, and now that's public that he is reportedly under investigation.
THOMAS: That's what's so strange.
WALKER: Mo, if you can talk about, is this a huge turning point? Do you see it that way?
MO KELLY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He should have been able to see this coming, even only because when Trump said he wasn't personally under investigation. We look at Enron, the Madoff investigation, they were investigating the companies and then the CEOs of the companies were implicated. The investigation of the Trump campaign, by definition, is going to include Steve Bannon, it's going to include Donald Trump and other advisers. Donald Trump got out in front of this, but he got too far out in front, or at least alleging he had been exonerated and here they are.
[02:50:22] THOMAS: But they are looking at obstruction, right? That's where they are going, and it's so stupid because he was obstructing something that he -- he was allegedly something -- it a was never there.
VAUSE: We should have seen this coming if anybody watching James Comey testify before the Senate last week. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I don't think it's for me to say whether the conversation I had with the president was an effort to obstruct. I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning. But that's a conclusion I'm sure the special counsel will work towards to try and understand what the intention was there and would that's an offense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: Comey can try his best Sergeant Joe Friday, but he laid out entire case.
KELLY: Oh, absolutely. He was playing chess and our president was playing checkers. There was an opportunity for President Trump, to your point, to not step in his own mess, and he did it. And now we're in a situation where, if you go back to President Clinton, it started with Whitewater. It ended with Monica Lewinsky.
So also to your point, we don't know where this is going to go, but it's only because President Trump put him in a situation where they had to choose a special counsel or prosecutor.
THOMAS: It also opens up questions about the alleged obstruction. I mean, if Comey felt so strongly that obstruction was occurring, why did he not tell the White House counsel? Why did he not sound the alarms in the moment?
VAUSE: We have talked about that before. That's not exactly what we're looking at here, but nice try.
WALKER: For now, they are saying they are willing to cooperate and talk to the special counsel. Are you concerned about that at all, considering that Dan Coats and Mike Rogers, they weren't exactly very forthcoming in their testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, and it doesn't look like they will be able to use executive privilege this time around, especially when it comes to what happened?
THOMAS: No, I want the truth to come out, so I'm not concerned about it at all. I think it's the right thing to do. KELLY: We are getting to the point where the president has to exert executive privilege or plead the Fifth. And now, since you're looking at obstruction justice, it's reasonable to have the president come forward and speak on their own behalf.
VAUSE: A spokesman for the president's personal lawyer issued a statement, a brief one, reading, "That the FBI leaked information regarding the president is outrage out, inexcusable and illegal."
Mo, that's straight from the Republican talking points, you know, attack the story, attack the leaks, muddy the waters
KELLY: Is there a leak, because if there is, that means the information is true or credible. You can't be leaking something which is not fake. We still have to deal with both. Is there a crime which has been committed, and then they leak that information to the press, or is there no crime, and they are making it up, so ultimately, we have to deal with both?
THOMAS: They weren't denying the truth of the leak, but leaks are a huge issue, and we haven't dealt with that. Even Comey appears to be a leaker.
VAUSE: Everyone is a leaker, it seems.
John and Mo, thank you.
We'll be taking off early right now. We'll hand off to Max Foster after the break.
WALKER: And next on -- on CNN NEWSROOM, open doors and open hearts. How Muslims were among the first few people to help those affected by the London fire.
That's it for us. Thanks for being with us.
[02:55:10] FOSTER: The fire that tore through this Grenfell Tower yesterday might have killed more people if it weren't for a group who happened to be awake at the time. Many Muslims were up preparing for prayers and a special meal during the holy month of Ramadan, and -- and they saw what was happening as well and they jumped to rescue people. Take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit down and share the food with everyone.
If it wasn't Ramadan and people having their last supper, their lives were saved because of that because they were awake and they saw the fire quickly, and they just ran out. If was like a normal day they would be asleep and it could cause a lot of casualties.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As you can see behind me there's a communal meal taking place and everyone is standing together. And that's the most important thing that has come out of this tragic event that at least we're here standing together supporting our community members.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of people who are Muslim and a lot of people who are Christian and you know what it is, there's a lot of people. That's what matters. Forget everything else.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best thing about today has been seeing how generous people are, are especially at a time when things are quite tense. The beautiful thing is everyone has come together and everyone has come here to support the people. It doesn't matter what color skin, where we're from or what chapter we represent. Every single person is here to make sure that the people who are affected and who need the help the most have got that help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOSTER: It really that's been heartening to see the whole communities come together in this area following this tragedy. Ange welling up amongst them as well.
We'll have more on that as we continue our coverage of the London tower block fire. Rosemary Church joins me after the break.
[03:00:01] ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and welcome to viewers around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.
FOSTER: And I'm Max Foster.