Return to Transcripts main page


House Democrats Prepare to Expand Obstruction Probe; Senator Rand Paul to Oppose President Trump's Emergency Declaration; Senate Poised to Rebuke Trump's Emergency Declaration; New Yorker: President Trump Directed Former Economic Adviser to Pressure DOJ to Block AT&T- Time Warner Merger; U.S.-South Korea Cancel Major War Games to "Support Diplomatic Efforts" with North Korea; Former Colorado Governor Hickenlooper Joins Crowded Democratic Field Running for President in 2020; Interview with Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA); At Least 23 Dead After Tornadoes Rip Through Alabama; Winter Storm Forces Schools to Close in New York and Boston. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 4, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Authorities fear the death toll from yesterday's devastating tornadoes there will soon be rising as well. In addition to the 23 people already known dead in that single county, a number, perhaps a large numbers, remain unaccounted for. And this morning those people are the focus of search teams and heat- seeking drones. Already the Alabama deaths are more than twice the number killed in tornadoes across the country in all of last year.

The Lee County coroner told CNN's "NEW DAY" there was precious little time to take cover when those first warnings went out.


BILL HARRIS, CORONER, LEE COUNTRY, ALABAMA: There were actual warnings out, and then it just seemed like the flip of a light switch, it was on top of them before they knew what was happening, but there were warnings issued.


SCIUTTO: CNN's Kaylee Hartung and Victor Blackwell are in Alabama this morning.

Kaylee, let's begin with you. It appears that the worst of those tornadoes, and there were more than one of them, was a half a mile across. Is that what you're hearing on the ground there? Just give us a sense this morning of the scale of the destruction you're seeing there.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Jim, that's right. I mean, as far as we can see here, I'll walk you down farther into this neighborhood in just a minute, it is complete and total destruction. Just yesterday these cinderblocks over here were the foundation for a manufactured home. And now that home sits on the other side of me. Nearly on the street. Picked up and moved by that tornado. When it comes to the extent of this devastation, authorities tell us

that they don't yet know the full extent. They haven't yet been able to get a full aerial view to understand. Today, as search and rescue teams continue their work, there will also be helicopters going up in the air, drones that will be able to give more of that bird's eye view and help them better understand what they're working with.

I mean, look at all that I can see in front of me here. You see these trees cut in half. That yellow substance in them, that's insulation from walls of homes that used to stand. We're seeing vehicles as well. If you see that Coca-Cola van just in front of that home, I'm surprised it's not completely tipped over there.

You mentioned that half-mile wide tornado. One perhaps two of them and authorities believe were on the ground for a matter of miles. Search and rescue teams back out on the ground this morning at 8:00 a.m. with the help of daylight. We've seen some of them here in this area. And I'm told that there are areas that look just like this that authorities weren't able to get to yesterday.

If you go about three miles down, this Lee Road 38, I'm told that's an area that authorities have not yet seen. That death toll now at 23, including children. We've heard the coroner and the sheriff both say that they expect that number to continue to rise again as these search and rescue efforts intensify now that they have the help of daylight -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. There's really nothing like the power of a tornado, particularly when you see it from the ground there.

Kaylee Hartung, thanks very much.

Now to Victor Blackwell, he's in the middle of the damage in Lee County as well.

It's good to have you both here because I think you really need more than one person on the ground to get a sense of the scale of the destruction. Tell us about the path of this tornado that you're seeing there.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: , WEEKEND NEW DAY: So, Jim, Kaylee is over along County Road 38. I'm a couple of miles away on County Road 100. And we're seeing similar damage.

This is a mobile home that was just snatched off the ground and thrown against the trees here. You can see the contents dump out the top. We'll see another angle of this home in a moment. The kitchen table. The mattresses. The clothing. This pink -- the things you see in the trees, that's insulation as well.

So where is the roof? That's across the street. Let me take you there. This is the tin roof that's been thrown across 100, wrapped around the trees here. And the winds here so strong that just from looking at the pictures preliminarily, the National Weather Service says this appears to be an Ef-3 meaning winds at 136 miles per hour. Maybe up to 165. We'll tell you what we're not seeing, debris in the road. That's

because crews worked all evening, as late as they could without power here, to clear the roads. We've seen dozers being brought in. The power trucks will be here. The search and rescue efforts continue as well.

Let me take you to the other side of this home as well so you can see just how destructive this tornado was. This is the linoleum of the kitchen floor. You can see here as well the padding in the carpet from the living room area. And what we did not see, if my photographer can follow me here, when we got here at about 2:00 a.m. was, because there was no light, there's a truck back here that's been shoved under here. There is a tree that's fallen on that truck.

[09:05:02] We do not know if there was anyone inside this home. Of course, we hope not, but again those search and rescue efforts continue. There are people unaccounted for. They're gathering at the local Providence Baptist Church with the Red Cross and Lee County Emergency Management Agency is saying that if you have people who are still unaccounted for, you can contact them. But look at all of the debris here.

We don't know if this is all from this mobile home because there's so much damage and there's so many homes that have been impacted. This could be from other homes. Now as we understand with these natural disasters, tornadoes especially, they don't go in a straight line. And sometimes they dot around. So it's not all like this. In some cases it's a small amount of damage and in some cases it's just small items that can be salvaged.

We'll continue to survey what we see here throughout the morning -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Victor, I hate to ask you this, and you may not know, but do you know if any of the residents were in that mobile home when this happened or authorities still trying to figure this out?

BLACKWELL: Yes, we don't know if anyone was in this home. We have seen a few people come by and look at the home. We've not seen or met anyone who knew who lived in this home, but no markings here to suggest that the home has been searched. We've been here since about 2:00 a.m. and no authorities. The sheriff's office has not come here to search. So we're not exactly sure if there was anyone in this home. Of course, we hope there was not.

SCIUTTO: Victor Blackwell, we know you're going to stay on it. Thanks very much.

Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now.

Chad, it's always good to have you because you can help give us something of a bird's eye view of the path of this destruction here on the map. Tell us how big the storms were and how broad the damage was.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We only know what the National Weather Service told us last night before sunset. And they said somewhere between 135 and 160. That's basically a cat-4 to almost cat-5 wind in an eye wall. And that lasted for about 60 miles or so in this line right through here just to the north of Columbus, Georgia. To the south of Auburn, Alabama.

Another storm did make its way very, very close to Warner Robbins Air Force there and then Macon here, right between those two cities, and then many other tornadoes on the ground all night long. In fact, 35 to 36 reports of tornadoes. The longest one maybe could be 65 miles long. And I'll tell you why that's so important. So let's get to this map here just a second here. I'll give you a tornado signature.

This is where we're talking about. Here's Columbus, Georgia. And that's Lee County, Alabama right there. I move you ahead to 3:00 Eastern Time. There is a tornado on the ground very close to Tuskegee, maybe shorter, Alabama, this is following the I-85 corridor. Move you ahead just a few more minutes. This tornado is still on the ground there. There's the tornado near Warner Robins. A tornado east of Albany, north of Albany and all along, even not that far from Tipton and Vidalia, Georgia.

Move you ahead farther along, these storms are still on the ground. And in fact, Jim, for a while, there were 10 tornado warnings for 10 separate storms all at the same time. Seven storms may have had a tornado on the ground at the same time.

Now let me show you how this is an important storm for Lee County. This is, right here, the tornado on the ground. This is the tornado signature, the Doppler signature of what was on the ground at the time. And I know we've lost 23 souls from this storm. But it missed Auburn by about three miles. It missed Columbus, Georgia, and Phoenix City, by about five miles.

So it strung right through the most populated areas and missed them. It got some very bad damage near Beauregard and in Lee County itself, but I can't imagine our story this morning had this hit through Auburn where the university is or hit through Columbus, Georgia, where there are so, so many more people located there -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's a great point. Tornadoes are always so arbitrary. They can devastate one area and leave the other area unscathed.

Chad Myers, thanks very much. We're going to stay on top of this.

This same storm system that's spawned those deadly tornadoes is hammering the northeast right now with snow. More than 80 million people from the Midwest all the way to the northeast under winter storm alerts this morning.

CNN's Alison Kosik, she is live in Boston with more. We can see it behind you. I mean, this is quite a dump of snow.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, I don't want to be deceiving here. This is actually plowed snow so the plows have really been in full force today. Look behind the photographer here. You see the plows moving along here for the sidewalks. This snow has been heavy and wet. The kind that you get to play

snowball fights, do the snowball fights with and make the snowmen. But it's also the kind that can really give you a lot of headaches because it can sit on power lines. Thousands of residents in Massachusetts are without power this morning. It also wreaks havoc on the streets especially at the time that this snowfall has happened from midnight all the way through the rush hour traffic.

[09:10:08] It certainly has created those slick streets but the plows have been in full force as you can see clearing the streets. Helping things at this hour, we are seeing the storm really move off them. The temperatures are certainly warming up. By this afternoon it's expected to be sunny and more than 40 degrees. But if you look at this storm, it's actually netted quite a bit of snow.

This is the heaviest snow that Boston has seen this season. In totality, Boston has had a pretty light snowfall for this season. Only receiving 15.9 inches. Just with this storm, it's gotten anywhere from nine to over a foot of -- nine inches to a foot of snow. Si it's certainly been the biggest of the season. And one to remember, Jim, because it is late in the season. Remember it is March.

KOSIK: Alison Kosik, thanks.

Coming up, assaults from both parties. Democrats ramping up investigations into President Trump and Republican controlled Senate as well to rebuke his national emergency declaration.

Plus, we're seeing massive protests in Venezuela. Just one hour from now, beginning just an hour from now, the self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido could face arrest at those protests. We're going to be live on the scene.

And former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, the latest to jump in the race for the White House. How will he stand out in this already crowded and diverse Democratic field?


[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, HOST, NEWSROOM: The House Judiciary Committee is stepping up its investigations into President Trump and his inner circle. Today, Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler says that he will formally request documents from more than 60 individuals in the administration.

On his list, Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg; the Chief Financial Officer for the Trump Organization. Joining me now with more, CNN Congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty. This is quite a broad net that the Chairman of the House Oversight -- rather, Judicial Committee is sending here, particularly after Cohen's testimony, and that's a spark for a lot of this.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely, right, Jim. This is certainly a big day and really indicates that the scrutiny on President Trump and these investigations are certainly entering a new phase.

Later today, the House Judiciary Committee, they'll make that list public of who they are requesting documents and information from, and we know, as you said, this is going to be a very large group. At least 60 people from President Trump's inner circle, both within the administration and with those with ties to his businesses.

People like his oldest son, Don Junior, Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. His name was brought up repeatedly, many times singled out by Michael Cohen up here on Capitol Hill last week. We could also have them request information from former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, White House counsel Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, I should say, and some pretty striking comments over the weekend from House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler.

He essentially talked about the scope of the information requesting what it potentially could lead to. He said it could be used to begin these investigations to present the case to the American people about obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power.

And he said it's very clear to him that the president obstructed justice but he said that impeachment is a long way down the road. And of course, Jim, we have heard from President Trump tweeting over the weekend calling this presidential harassment.

SCIUTTO: On another issue, we have seen Rand Paul now writing an editorial, he's going to oppose the president's national emergency declaration, that makes four Republicans, I believe, enough to get a majority in the Senate to oppose this, but certainly not to override a presidential veto which has been promised.

I mean, speaking to Republicans on the Hill, do you see any momentum for it to get to that number of 67 or is that just not going to happen?

SERFATY: At this point, probably not, but certainly Rand Paul sealing the deal and becoming the fourth Republican, gives other Republicans who have been critical of the president's national emergency declaration to vote with Democrats here.

And as you said, this does seal the deal and it confirms that the Senate is ready in the next few weeks to reject the president's national security declaration. A big rebuke to President Trump and what he wants to do to get his border wall. Rand Paul over the weekend in the op-ed writing, quote, "I could literally lose my political soul if I decided to treat President Trump different than President Obama.

Every single Republican I know decried President Obama's use of executive power to legislate. We were right then, but the only way to be an honest office holder is to stand up for the same principles no matter who is in power." And the Senate will vote to reject this at some point over the next few weeks, but important here as you noted.

In the end, it's very clear that here, they don't have a veto, they don't have enough to override a veto. So President Trump will issue the first veto of his presidency, and likely it will stick.

SCIUTTO: Right, he may relish that veto. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much. Let's discuss now with Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana. Senator, thanks for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So first, on the national emergency declaration, you and I have talked about this before. I know it's not your preferred option, but you say you will support the president here. You've noted that there's a law in the books giving the president such a power and that other presidents have declared emergencies.

But you're also a lawyer, you know, the Supreme Court has set a standard here. Kind of three categories, you know, where Congress has voiced approval for a particular action or has not stated an opinion on the action or as in this case, where Congress has explicitly opposed an action here.

Since this is in that final category, legally, and again, you're a lawyer, how do you justify this? Congress, they had a chance to approve -- to approve this funding, but the government was shut down for it, they didn't approve the funding. So how do you justify the president declaring a national emergency?

[09:20:00] KENNEDY: I am a lawyer, I'm not a judge, I do have a legal opinion. The president is not exercising any authority that, in my judgment, Congress hasn't given him. Presidents in the past have used these statutes 60 times.

SCIUTTO: Yes, but not -- as you know, this is a different category where Congress has explicitly said, no, we're not spending that money, we're spending $1.3 billion, that's what we're doing. And that's Republicans and Democrats. That's a different category from many of the past emergency declarations that you've cited.

KENNEDY: And I suspect the Democrats will make that legal argument. I don't agree with it. Again, this is authority that Congress has given the president. Now should Congress have given the president this much authority? That's a separate question.

But the fact is that it has, he has decided to use it, it wasn't my preferred option, he's having decided to use it, in my judgment, will not mean the end of western order. I happen to believe we do have a crisis at the border. It's different than it was in the past. Now, we have thousands of unaccompanied minors and families coming in --

SCIUTTO: Right --

KENNEDY: But, look, it will be litigated. My guess is that both the house and the Senate will vote to override -- not override, that's the wrong term, but vote to --

SCIUTTO: Oppose it.

KENNEDY: Oppose it and then both sides, or at least the Senate, but probably the House will sustain his veto.

SCIUTTO: You cite Democratic opposition here, but as you know, four of your Republican colleagues, including Senator Rand Paul, the latest --

KENNEDY: Right --

SCIUTTO: He's saying that Republicans are hypocritical to have opposed President Obama's executive orders in the past, virtually unanimously, but to let this one pass here, why isn't he --

KENNEDY: Right --


KENNEDY: Well, I have great respect for Rand, I just don't agree with him. The argument that's always made to me is that, well, President Obama was wrong to issue an executive order without congressional consent on DACA. Well, the president then, President Obama didn't have any legal authority that he was basing his executive order on.

In this case, the president has not only statutory authority given to him by Congress, but he has the precedent of 60 past declarations of national emergencies. So to me, it is a distinction with a difference.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you on another exercise of presidential power. "The New Yorker" is reporting this morning that the president ordered the Department of Justice to attempt to block the merger between AT&T and Time Warner over the objections of his Chief of Staff then, John Kelly, but also his chief White --economic adviser Gary Cohn.

In your view, is that an acceptable use of presidential power, a president trying to block a merger because he doesn't like the coverage by a news station, this one, owned by one of the companies involved?

KENNEDY: Well, number one, I don't know if it's true. I think the report, yet again, was based on anonymous sources. Number two, I think it's perfectly acceptable for the president of the United States to have an opinion on some --

SCIUTTO: To block a merger -- to block a merger, to punish what he considers a critic?

KENNEDY: I don't think that it's been established, I know it's been alleged that, that was what his mental perspective was at the time. And I think it's all anonymous sources. I don't know what the president thought, but if your -- and either do you, frankly, none of us did. I mean, it's an anonymous source once again talking to the "New York Times".

SCIUTTO: Well, if -- well, it's "The New Yorker", I should say. But if the president were to do that, would you consider that an acceptable use of presidential power? KENNEDY: Well, if -- I don't think that's a fair question because

they hadn't been proven that he did it. I mean, if any public official committed murder, would I think that's wrong if he committed murder? Yes, he'd be a murderer.

SCIUTTO: Well, the president also -- the president also even in campaign statements said publicly that he opposed the merger. So this is -- this didn't come out of the blue --

KENNEDY: Yes, and whether --

SCIUTTO: But I'll take your point, I'll take your point --

KENNEDY: Yes, OK, fair enough --

SCIUTTO: Yes, but let's -- if we can, just move on to another topic because I just returned, as the president did, from Hanoi, from discussions between --

KENNEDY: Right --

SCIUTTO: The president and the North Korean leader. It's the second time the president travelled to Asia to meet face-to-face with the North Korean leader. He's returning with no discernible progress on North Korean denuclearization, no new commitments. Were the talks a failure in your view?

KENNEDY: No, they didn't end in an agreement, but I was reading a columnist this weekend, Jim, I don't remember who it was, but he or she made the point that walking away is better sometimes than giving away. Kim's demands were unrealistic.

[09:25:00] He wanted us to lift all sanctions in return for him --

SCIUTTO: That's right --

KENNEDY: Shutting down their nuclear facility at Yongbyon. There were other nuclear facilities. North Korea as best we can tell, has 37 nuclear weapons. Mr. Kim didn't offer to get rid of those, he wanted us to take off all pressure in return for him shutting down just one facility. It would have been a bad deal, I'm glad the president didn't take it.

SCIUTTO: Well, why did the president then give a concession from the U.S. side, which is to end large-scale military exercises with South Korea? Which is of course, John, as you well know of the U.S. South Korea agreement. Why is the U.S. making concessions if North Korea is making no concessions in return?

KENNEDY: I can't answer that, I mean, I haven't talked to the president about it. I think the president would like to keep the negotiations going. I would like to keep the negotiations going. I feel like the world is safer today than it was a year ago when Kim Jong-un was threatening -- was testing missiles and testing warheads and threatening China and -- I'm sorry, Japan and South Korea and the United States. SCIUTTO: Understood, better to be talking than shooting. I hear you


KENNEDY: Sure --

SCIUTTO: Senator Kennedy, we appreciate you coming on this morning.

KENNEDY: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, another Democrat is jumping in the race for 2020. But the former Colorado governor is already facing some major obstacles, we're going to look at his candidacy that's coming up.