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U.S. And Iran Prisoner Exchange; Two Confirmed Deaths as Tornado Hits Florida. Aired 6:30-7a

Aired January 17, 2016 - 06:30   ET



CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: The five Americans who have been held in Iran are, indeed, on their way home as well.

Next hour, by the way, we are going to hear reaction about the release from the Democratic presidential candidates and then it is a can't miss episode of "STATE OF THE UNION" at 9:00 Eastern. CNN's Jake Tapper will be interviewing White House hopefuls Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders. And then at 11:00 p.m., CNN"s Wolf Blitzer kicks off the special live coverage of tonight's Democratic National Debate.

Breaking news this hour. At any moment we could get word that four Americans are on their way home from Iran. That is the news we are waiting to hear that it is a done deal and they are in a plane on their way home. We do not yet know that but we have reporters around the world who are covering the story to find out.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: And of course as we heard just a bit of it, the presidential candidates are weighing in on this swap but hear why Ted Cruz calls the deal nothing more than propaganda.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's get you the latest on the top story. The news breaking right now. This historic swap between the United States and Iran. Right now, we are waiting for confirmation that the four freed Americans have departed Iran.

PAUL: We have not gotten that confirmation yet but everyone is waiting for Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Nosratollah Khosravi. They are expected we believe to leave Tehran soon, if they have not already. Again, just waiting for confirmation of this. Their first stop expected to be Geneva where they could be meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry who had helped -- of course who negotiated their release.

BLACKWELL: The four would then travel to an army base in Germany to be checked out medically. They will receive treatment there at the largest hospital outside of the U.S. -- the largest U.S. hospital, I should say, before heading back to American soil. PAUL: We are also following the release of seven Iranians pardoned in

that swap deal. They were set from prison just before our broadcast began. They were -- they were actually released from prison and allowed to be released fully.


They walked out of that detention center as part of a coordinated release there. We want to bring in Reza Marashi, research director of the National Iranian American Council. So, Reza, as we share that the Iranians have been freed what is your reaction to the fact that we have not yet heard about the Americans and whether they are, indeed on a plane and leaving Iran at this hour?

REZA MARASHI, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: Well, I think what we have heard so far, both from the American side and the Iranian side, and there have been some logistical or procedural issues that need to be sorted out before they can go from -- in all likelihood the Swiss embassy is where they probably are inside of Tehran to the airport to leave the country.

And we don't know what those logistical and procedural issues are. Two things stand out to me in terms of what they could potentially be. One, there might be some issues on the Iranian side in terms of processing former prisoners who are getting ready to leave the country, or potentially, because the Swiss are America's protecting power inside of Iran because, remember, there is no American diplomatic presence inside of Iran, there might be some things that the Swiss need to work out on their end but we are not sure. We should be finding out those sooner, rather than later.

PAUL: Well, I want to get your reaction from -- on what we heard from Joel Androphy. He is an attorney for three of the Iranians who have been released there in Texas. He said that he was told by the U.S. government and the Iranian government that they -- his clients would not be released until Iran had received the funds that were due them, the $100 billion from this IAEA deal with the E.U. and the U.S.

What do you make of the fact that there does seem to be, obviously, this connection? This is not all -- this is not two separate deals, as it had been believed.

MARASHI: I can't say I'm surprised. But I wouldn't say that they are the same deal.

I would add a little bit of nuance and say that the nuclear deal created a channel of direct U.S. dialogue that frankly hadn't existed in over 37 years. And what that new channel of dialogue allowed is for subsequent issues or sources of tension and conflict to be discussed. Now, if Iranian hardliners inside of Tehran want to make sure that they get their money before they let American prisoners go and so on and so forth, then none of us should be surprised because that is the kind of thing that extremist politicians have a propensity to do. But I don't think that the U.S. and Iran went into the nuclear negotiations with the intent of resolving a variety of issues. I think they actually did a great job of keeping their eye on the prize and making sure that the nuclear issue got addressed so that there would be a foundation from which dialogue on other issues could begin to grow.

PAUL: OK. So, you believe that this is just the start of new diplomatic relations between the two countries. Really quickly too I want to ask you this $100 billion in assets that they were waiting for mostly from pastoral (ph) sales we should point out, how will that money modify day-to-day living in Iran? Do you have any idea?

MARASHI: Well, I think two things stand out to me. If Iran is going to be bringing in, over an extended period of time, $100 billion of its own money that was frozen overseas, it provides the Iranian government with funds that are necessary to actually have a functioning economy in ways that don't only benefit the upper echelon of political officials that are closely connected to the regime and it allows the private sector, it allows average workers in the bizarre (ph) to (ph) factories and so on and so forth -- students, young people, such a high level of unemployment in Iran to start to benefit from economic strength and stability. I think that, above all else, stands out as the biggest benefit to the Iranians.

PAUL: You do think that's going to happen. All right. Reza Marashi, so grateful for your prospective today. Thank you for taking the time to be with us. Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Breaking news.

Staying with this story. We are just learning the foreign minister -- Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif is telling CNN that the plane carrying those four now former hostages is about to take off. So they will -- we expect to be en route to Germany to be treated and checked out medically after at least in the case of Jason Rezaian spending 18 months in custody there in Iran. The three others will be on that plane with him.

Again, foreign minister -- Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif telling CNN that the plane is about to take off and of course we are waiting for confirmation from U.S. officials as soon as that plane leaves Iranian air space and it's en route to what we expect will be Germany for that medical treatment and checkup. We are expecting there will be a 7:00 a.m. press conference in which we are hearing from the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani. In which we will expect his thoughts on this exchange. Not only the exchange of the prisoners and hostages, but also this nuclear deal.


We are expecting to hear, of course, from the president at any moment but we were told that those comments were imminent starting in the a.m. hours yesterday, but now that the American Iranians who have been, as we were told by the attorney for at least one of them, released from U.S. prisons. We are told they are en route to their homes and Zarif is telling the U.S., telling CNN that the Americans, their plane is about to take off. We expect that we will hear from the president, hopefully, sometime this morning. Of course we will bring that to you as soon as it happens. Now this, of course, is impacting the race for 2016. Who will be the

next president? And Republican presidential candidates are celebrating the release of Americans from Iran, but they are not too happy. Of course, the U.S. gave up seven Iranian prisoners as part of this swap. Here's a sample of how a few of the candidates are reacting on the campaign trail.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we celebrate their return. This deal serves as a piece of propaganda for both Iran and the Obama administration.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know why they were being captured and then held hostage in the first place? Because they know that if you take an American hostage, Barack Obama will cut a deal with you. And it's created an enormous incentive for people and countries and movements around the world to do this against us.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We give them 150 billion dollars, we give them essentially 22 people, 21, 22 people, but these are people that really did have problems, and we are getting back four people that didn't do anything wrong. That's the way we negotiate. That's the way we negotiate. It's so sad. It's so sad. And this has been going on forever.

I've been hitting them hard and I think I might have had something to do with it. You want to know the truth, who is using it? It's a part of my staple thing. I mean, I go crazy when I -- when I hear about this.


BLACKWELL: We'll come back to Trump's claim of responsibility and credit (ph) in just a moment.

Let's start with Republican strategist Kayleigh McEnany. Kayleigh, let's start with just the candidates who excoriated President Obama for even reaching the point in the nuclear deal that a hundred billion or more released to Iran without the release of those U.S. hostages. Now that we know that those hostages are likely on their way home before the money was released, no mention of that from any of the candidates?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look. I think the candidates are frustrated, as Donald Trump has said and several of the other candidates have said. The prisoners should have been released alongside the deal at the time.

You know, we're the world's hegemonic super power. The United States sets the terms of a deal. And in this it's pretty evident that the United States is not setting the terms of the deal. The United States is in some ways following the lead of Iran. Iran says you have to wait for these prisoners to be released, the U.S. waits. People are frustrated that the U.S. isn't taking the lead bargaining position in this deal. BLACKWELL: But how do we know that that's not what happened here? Because as this money was released as they reached implementation day there was the announcement that these four hostages would be released.

MCENANY: You know, you're right to say that the deal is unclear. We don't know the terms exactly of this prisoner swap just yet so certainly we could find out more.

But I think when you look at the terms of the deal there are some things that are frustrating like Iran setting the terms essentially or is able to rebel or not consent to certain searches of its nuclear facilities. You know, that shouldn't be in a deal. It should be the United States setting the terms, the United States saying you must consent to these searches at these times, with Iran having no negotiating or bargaining power when it comes to when the IAEA can come in and search their nuclear facilities.

People are frustrated not just with this term of the deal but other terms that we know. As you said we don't know the terms of this prisoner swap just yet so, you know, we could be surprised. Who knows? I don't think so. Given the other terms of the agreement.

BLACKWELL: Well, there will be surprises as we have seen the last 24 hours as we learn more about -- exactly how we reached this point and how we move forward.

Let's get now to Trump saying that -- or at least taking credit that his pressure on the Obama administration is, in part, what led to the release or this swap. What is your take?

MCENANY: I don't see that as an unlikely possibility.

You know, Trump -- it has been a part of his stump speech on nearly every campaign stop, why aren't the prisoners released? And who knows. This could have been a result of Trump making that claim and excoriating the administration for not --

BLACKWELL: Kayleigh, you believe that Trump going after the president for, I know his campaign has been going on for, what, six months now? Trump going after the president led to this very complex multifaceted deal to exchange these specific people?

MCENANY: I don't think it's unlikely. Because here's the thing. Donald Trump has brought up issues and as we see every time he brings up an issue something happens on the part of the administration.

Take the illegal immigration for instance. Trump had hammered this issue and then we see the president just after the New Year raiding homes to remove some illegal immigrants. So, I don't think it's unlikely that Trump is making a big deal of issues and it's resonating with many, many Americans. And the president is reacting in reaction to Trump. I don't think it's unlikely.


So it could not be the reason but I don't think it's unlikely and I don't think it's out of bounds for Trump to say he could be the reason.

BLACKWELL: But there is no proof that it is?

MCENANY: There is no proof. It's his hunch. He thinks he has brought some of these issues and the administration has reacted and it could be. So, I think it's a wise point for him to bring up on the campaign trail. He brings up issues and sometimes we see reaction out of the administration.

BLACKWELL: Well, I'm sure we will hear more from Trump claiming responsibility and credit as we have. But I don't know if after, therefore, because of is the argument that holds for this. But we will see. Kayleigh McEnany, thank you so much.

MCENANY: Thanks, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Make sure to watch this morning's can't miss episode of "STATE OF THE UNION" when CNN's Jake Tapper will be interviewing Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. At 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

And then at 11:00 p.m., CNN's Wolf Blitzer anchors a special live coverage after tonight's Democratic National Debate.

PAUL: And (INAUDILBE) following some other breaking news this hour.

Tornadoes have ripped through Florida in the early morning hours. Yes. While people were sleeping and so not prepared. As the sun is now starting to come up, we are getting a look at some of this destruction. We are going to talk about that next and show you what we have got.


BLACKWELL: All right. We are of course waiting for the American prisoners to leave Iranian air space.

We were told -- our CNN producer was told by Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that the plane was about to take off. We are waiting for confirmation that it has, indeed, taken off. Of course we will bring you that as soon as we get it.

But we are following another breaking news story this morning.

PAUL: A confirmed tornado in Florida. I want to show you here some of the brand new video that we're getting. And this is in Sarasota. Can you imagine what these people are dealing with today? That looks like it's a home torn to shreds.

Sarasota Fire and Rescue is reporting multiple rescues that have taken place or are currently ongoing. But overnight, the west coast of Florida, specifically the Tampa Bay area, slammed by a line of severe storms here and that weather is sweeping through Central Florida now.

Let's talk to Jason Bartolone. He's the spokesman for Sarasota County. Jason, thank you for being with us.


First of all any injuries that you can talk to us about or help us understand what's happening now at this hour?

JASON BARTOLONE, SARASOTA COUNTY SPOKESMAN: Hi. We have no significant reports of injuries at this time which is actually pretty remarkable given some of the damage that we're seeing to at least a few residences here in the Sarasota County area.

PAUL: Yes. We are seeing some of the pictures and images that are coming into us now on our screen. But help us understand what it's like there and how expansive some of this damage is. Are there pockets of it? Is it a long swath?

BARTOLONE: Well, there are two main areas of damage that our fire and rescue teams are responding to right now and they are both located near the Siesta Key area. Siesta Key is barrier island and a major tourist destination here. And we did have some significant damage to at least one building on the Key. A mid-rise resident that had some serious structural damage from wind and water. And then we had at least one residence here that had serious structural damage, a roof collapse here just off the island, just off the Key where they had two individuals inside that had to be rescued by our fire department.

PAUL: OK. And what about power interruption and how long do you think it's going to take for you all to try to discern exactly what -- how many people have -- nobody you said had been taken to the hospital, but are all people accounted for?

BARTOLONE: Well, the latest indication we had on power outages was that about 17,000 individuals were without power, that was with Florida Power and Light. We are in communication with them. No indication on when that power might be restored. But we are still assessing the damage throughout the county.

Again, we have no reports of major injuries at this time which is amazing. And we hope it stays that way. But our teams are still out there trying to assess just how much damage was suffered overnight with these storms.

PAUL: OK. Again, Jason Bartolone, we appreciate it so much. He is from Sarasota County but I understand we have breaking news from another county, Manatee County, that was also affected here.

BLACKWELL: Just north of Sarasota County. We have just gotten a confirmation that there are two reported deaths, two confirmed deaths there in Manatee County from the line of storms systems, the line of storms that moved through overnight and produced a tornado.

We know that again, two confirmed deaths. They are just north of where Jason Bartolone is in Sarasota County. The deaths are in Manatee County. Of course we'll continue to get more details specifically about in which city we know the city seat there is Bradenton and Manatee County. But we are hoping to find out exactly where this happened and the situation that caused it.

If it was a tornado or just part of that strong line of storms that passed through.

PAUL: Yes. We'll be right back with that and more.



PAUL: We are following a developing story this hour.

Twenty-eight people are dead, including an American, in a series of attacks in Burkina Faso.

BLACKWELL: An al Qaeda linked group has claimed responsibility for those attacks. They stormed the popular hotel and took more than a hundred people hostage in the capital of Ouagadougou. The attacker started shooting hostages inside the hotel before security forces stormed in.

PAUL: And rescuers have expanded the search off the coast of Hawaii for these 12 marines that are missing since two helicopters apparently collided during a training mission Thursday. The coast guard says the search will stretch farther along the north shore along on the island of Oahu and eight miles out to sea now.

BLACKWELL: More help is on the way to Flint, Michigan, as city residents' protest what they say is a slow state response to lead in their drinking water. President Obama has declared a state of emergency freeing up $5 million in federal aid. That money can be used to buy bottled water and filters for those families. The city's water has been contaminated with lead ever since the city switched to a cheaper water source nearly two years ago.

We've got lots going on this morning starting with the Iran/U.S. prisoner swap. Iranian President Rouhani is expected to speak in a few minutes. We're going to start the next hour right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAUL: For those of you just joining us, we are grateful to have you here.

Good morning. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Welcome, our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

And we begin this hour with the breaking news out of Iran.

PAUL Yes. According to Iran's foreign minister the four Americans set free in this historic prisoner swap Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi are about to take off. Yes, they are about to leave Iran. They may be we believe on the way to Switzerland where they could meet with Secretary of State John Kerry who helped negotiate their release, of course.

BLACKWELL: The group will then fly to an army base in Germany where they will receive medical attention. We're also following the release of the seven Iranians whose charges were dismissed as part of the prisoner swap. They were here in the U.S. We will have an interview with one of their attorneys in just a few moments.

We are following this story from around the world this morning with a team of CNN correspondents.

PAUL: And we want to go first to Christiane Amanpour who has been following this with us in London.

Christiane, thanks for being with us.

I wanted to talk to you about some news that broke last hour that we heard first here from the lawyer, from the prisoners freed here in the U.S. He spoke to us and this is what he told us about what he knew regarding the negotiations and getting these Americans out of Iran.


JOEL ANDROPHY, LAWYER FOR BAHRAM MECHANICH: Well, we were contacted on Wednesday and told that we would be receiving a pardon on Friday. On Friday, we were told that there had been a delay because the deal had not been finally consummated yet. We were told to be there on Saturday morning at 5:30 because they expected at that time the Americans in Iran would have been released and outside of Iranian air space.

We stayed at the jail yesterday. Our clients were prepared to leave. Mr. Mechanich had been out of his prison garb, in normal business attire, had been basically released from prison -- from his cell but he was not allowed to leave the facility. President Obama had already signed his pardon, but he could not be released because the Americans had not left Iranian air space.

So 8:00 on Saturday night, we were still waiting in the jail for this to happen. But, unfortunately, Tehran was nine hours ahead of us, and we were told that the Iranians would not allow the airplane with the Americans to be flown outside of Tehran until they receive their funds that they expected on the nuclear deal -- arrangement they had with the United States.