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INSIDE POLITICS

FDNY: 13 People Hurt In Times Square Accident; Former FBI Director Robert Mueller To Lead Russia Probe. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 18, 2017 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:30:02] ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- an unusual thing to see in Times Square, the heart of Broadway, the heart of restaurants and shops and where tourists go, especially on a beautiful New York City day. John.

JOHN KING, CNN "INSIDE POLITICS" HOST: And blocking off the part of the city as they respond will cause additional domino effect if you will. Alison, please standby and keep gathering information. I want to bring in CNN correspondent Brynn Gingras who is at the scene and joining us on the phone. I understand that Brynn, as we bring you to the conversation, Governor Andrew Cuomo we are told is on his way to the scene. Tell us where you are and what you're seeing.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very chaotic scene here, John. We are just approaching the area where this car is -- and it is a widely roped off area by the NYPD and the FDNY at this point. Where these two avenues meet, we always say the cross roads of America. Well, that's exactly where this point is. You have major two avenues crossing each other at this point in Times Square. At the big pedestrian walkway which has been changed by the city over a number of years of construction.

So there's really only one avenue of traffic going through. The rest is all pedestrians. And I just heard you guys talking about how this is an area where people walk around. This is the time of lunch. It's a beautiful day out. It's certainly a lot of people out here. But we could see-- sorry, I'm a little out of breath as I rush in to the scene.

But we could see that red car perched up against that lamp post right at 45th Street. And right now we're rush and looking at it. We're trying to get a visual -- closer visual. But this is fairly roped up and this is upon a street away is as close as it gets to the scene, but certainly active with police and the FDNY and emergency personnel trying to sort of get people out of that area and keep crews away the street.

KING: Brynn, if you need to drop to move through the crowd let me know. I know and (ph) as I ask you a questions this for what you see in the sense that one way to judge the severity of the injuries in this situations, how many people. Can you get a sense, are people being treated on the sidewalks? Or people would have, you know, have been running and tripping and falling perhaps minor injuries as supposed to ambulances scene leaving that scenes to head off to hospitals? GINGRAS: Well, we're still hearing there's a number of sirens going to that area not necessarily leading at this point. Like I said, I'm about a block away from where the car is perched up against that lamp post and there are just a number of emergency personnel working on that area right around the car. Now, where that car is perched up, I have to highlight again that it's not perched up where the avenue is. It's actually perched up against a lamp post where it is a huge pedestrian walkway.

So right now it's dead obviously because people have been told to vacate this area, but this at the time that it would have happened would have been packed with tourists, packed with people that were having lunch in this area because this was specifically made to be an area that people can walk around and sit and eat. So it's unclear exactly the details of this accident at this point

But certainly where that car is perched up, it is perched up in an area where a lot of people would have been. I know that we have reports from the FDNY that 13 people injured. We're still getting a lot of information from officials at this point. But preliminary -- preliminarily just by the looks of it, it is in an area where a lot of people would have been, John.

KING: And because a lot of people are there, I assume you also have a large crowd now just gawking. I don't mean that in a bad way, just trying to figure out what is going on the scene. Is that true? There are there police clearing people away to try to get some space?

GINGRAS: Yes, there's -- police have cleared out about let's say, a two-block radius of this area. I can see a tent up about two blocks from where I'm standing. I'm not quite sure if that's related to this. But certainly police have taking over two blocks of this area and cleared it out. Certainly a lot of people still coming by taking pictures, trying to figure out exactly what happened. We're on the north side of where this accident. So we have a good clear shot of the car that was involved.

But past that is where all the emergency personnel south of us, that's where they are right now. And that's where -- there's a lot of chaos going on. I can't quite tell if they're still being treated on the sidewalks, because we're sort of being blocked at this point. But certainly it's a little bit of a hectic scene over there and in back of us is just a lot of gawkers as you mentioned.

KING: All right, Brynn, standby for just one second and make your way as you can continue the reporting. I want to recap quickly for our viewers.

Just before noon Alison Kosik and some scenes. Well, just before noon, from the Fire Department of New York word that a vehicle struck pedestrians in Times Square. You see the pictures coming in from our affiliate, that the CBS. The car as Brynn just told us is up against a lamp post tilted on its side a bit.

First responders are on the scene. Initial reports from the fire department, 13 people struck or injured in this incident. We don't have the exact details yet. There are some reports of fatalities. We do not have that confirmed. Governor Andrew Cuomo we are told is on his way to the scene. This is one of the busiest most visited scenes in Times Square.

Sean Spicer the White House Press Secretary just tweeting out at POTUS, that's the President of the United States has been made aware of the situation in Times Square and will continue to receive updates. CNN's Alison Kosik is on the scene. I understand have some new information, Alison.

[12:35:13] KOSIK: Yes, we are learning that once again 13 injuries. One person according to New York Police Department is dead as a result of this accident. And the picture is really amazing when you see that car up on its side like that. Just keep in mind, in the middle of Times Square, there really isn't much of an ability to pick up speed in Times Square because it is such a condensed area where you've got so many people walking and so many cars sort of all together.

I mean, if you're really moving at a normal speed, you're barely going, you know, 20 miles an hour when you try to drive-thru that prime area of Times Square. So to get that car up on its side, it really makes you wonder how fast it was going. And then you think about the time of day that this happened, in the middle of the day when it's lunchtime, everybody out walking to go get a bite to eat. It's a beautiful day here in New York City, 90 degrees.

And then you see these pictures. Surreal to see on the right there how empty the street is because authorities have blocked off the area so they can investigate. They could help anybody who was injured. And then to see that picture on the left of that red Honda up on its side like that.

Once again, John, we don't know about the driver, about where the driver is at this point and what condition the driver could be in. Once again, there are 13 victims. One confirmed dead. And as you said, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York is heading to the scene. John.

KING: And Alison, just describe for people who maybe can't see further back in some of these pictures we're seeing, you see on the left there the Honda up nearly perched on its side in an angle up against the lamp post, on the right the broader scene from our affiliates of people in the street emergency response vehicles as well. Most of the people you can see in those shots are first responders.

What are you seeing in terms of the mix of whether they're fire trucks, ambulance, police vehicles, other emergency response operations and equipment?

KOSIK: I think all of the above is what you see. I mean, this was called in at 11:50. That's when we had learned. About 11:50 this morning, you're seeing ambulances. You're seeing and police cars. You're seeing that yellow tape blocking off the areas so they can get to the scene and help anybody who was injured. You know, a lot of tourists blocked to this area to see Broadway shows, to go shop and to eat. It's really is a surreal scene to see the streets empty like this and to see all of these emergency vehicles flooding in to help anybody who may have been injured. John.

KING: And Alison, as you make your way through the scene there, as you get any sense, normally the New York City Police Department and Fire Department are very quick to set up a crime scene and then to offer information. Do you get any sense of where they near that process? And when you're looking at the uniforms, do you see is it state -- is it all city presence, or do you see state and federal of any state or federal response on the scene as yet?

KOSIK: I'm actually not at the scene so like, I am not there on the ground Brynn is. I'm here at the studios reporting the pictures that I see here so I can't answer that. But it looks like, you know, considering this happened less than an hour ago and the police have cordoned off this area the way they have. All of the victims are on their way to hospitals. From what we can tell preliminarily the action was quite swift.

What we now -- what we are learning now, some sources are telling us that the car involved, John, was speeding before the collision. This according to a source familiar with the police response. An office of emergency management official is describing the vehicle as, "out of control" before it struck multiple people. And that is really disturbing because once again, it is really hard to pick up speed in the middle of Times Square when you've got so many people walking. People really don't drive. And those who do drive, you don't drive fast.

And so it's disconcerting to hear that the car involved in this, John, was speeding before the collision. And keep in mind speed limits in New York City are 20 miles per hour. Just because it's a pedestrian city and so imagine that a car picked up speed right in the middle of possibly, you know, hundreds if not, you know, more than thousands of people walking in a very condensed space. That is disturbing. John.

KING: Alison, standby of course and my apologies for the unfair question. I wasn't aware of your location.

KOSIK: No, that's OK. That's OK.

KING: Now that's the bad on me.

All right, so joining us by phone, somebody who understands the response and understands this is area quite well. Harry Houck, the CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and retired detective for the New York City Police joins us by telephone.

Harry, I'm hoping you can see some of these pictures as you joined the conversation. Just from what you have heard a vehicle picking up obviously above the speed limit to cause this kind of damage in New York City. Thirteen people injured one fatality. Just take us through where we are here in the city and if you were on the beat today what would be happening? HARRY HOUCK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, one interesting about look for when we got to the scene is are there any marks on the ground where he attempted to brake before he hit the civilians on the street. But that would be one of my most important things to take a look here because then if I saw that it was attempting to brake that this -- it's good chances is probably an accident.

[12:40:14] Also, you know, the fact that if this was a typical accident and he was not injured and taken to the hospital, I would say the driver (INAUDIBLE) would probably still be on the scene.

Unless the driver of the vehicle is drunk and then he would have been taken into custody right away. So we don't know for sure. You know, we have -- there's also a chance here that the person driving this vehicle attempted to brake but hit the gas instead and then just took off. This is consistent of the type of accident like this where the accelerator was pressed instead of the brake.

So until we find out more about their investigation and the fact that this driver is no longer on the scene, you know, we really can't point a finger at exactly what happened here. We know that there are a lot of people injured here and we know the fact that the terrorist organizations out there, especially in Europe, have been doing this type of thing. We can't say this is terrorism right now. I would basically say by looking at it is that maybe somebody hit the accelerator instead of the brake, but the police investigation will come to a conclusion on that based on, you know, checking at the crime scene, checking out marks on the ground and injuries to the people that were involved.

KING: And you brought into the conversation there's something that we're always reluctant to strike the balance in the sense that Times Square has been a target of attempted terrorism before. And we have seen in recent month around the world the use of vehicles, usually trucks but in France and elsewhere we have seen these incidents. So they would pop into mind when people hear iconic Times Square, vehicle hitting people. It's logical to worry about the risk of terrorism.

So, from a detective standpoint, those officers on the scene right now and the other people responding, and I assume there's a federal response as well, what is their checklist essentially to take us through how you decide what is this? Is it a DWI? Is it, you know, just like a speeding check --

(CROSSALK)

HOUCK: It's very important to talk to witnesses on the scene. I know, you know, CNN has talked to some witnesses on the scene. Did this vehicle pick up acceleration really quickly or was he -- driving through Times Square is really tough. It's only, you know, if you can go more than 10 miles an hour going through Times Square, that's a lot.

So, you know, that's why I'm sitting here thinking that maybe an accelerator was hit by mistake and the investigation being conducted, I'm sure detectives and accident investigators are talking to the driver right now, this might injured, trying to find out exactly what happened. And I'm sure right now also, you know, it's a terrorism is in the mind of everybody when something like this occurred, they're conducting background investigations on that person already.

They ran that vehicle. They know who the driver is. They're checking the driver's background, you know.

This is something they're going to have to do anyway in the face of terrorism that, you know, we're facing every day now. So that background investigation has got to be conducted. This is a crime scene here. It's probably going to be -- Times Square is probably going to be backed up for quite a few hours unless they make a determination quickly that this was some type of an accident. If it was, they'll be able to get that vehicle out of there. Open Times Square up again.

Also a lot of the victims that were injured, if they're able to speak, detectives are at the hospital speaking to those people. See what they exactly saw it, did they hear the car rev from 15 miles an hour to all of a sudden speeding through a crowd of people.

So, there's many pedestrian areas there that have been blocked off, just best thing (ph) to drive. This is a target rich environment in the event somebody wanted to do something like this purposely because of the amount of people out there in Times Square every day and all night. So, you know, they're going to be very careful conducting this investigation to make sure that they've covered all bases here and the fact that this is not a terrorist attack and maybe if that was just purely an accident or some other mistake that the driver had made.

But that's why, if it was a regular car accident, he would probably still be on the scene. So that's a very interesting point for me.

KING: To that point, Harry, I want you to standby. Our Brynn Gingras has now have new information. She's made her way closer to the accident scene.

So Brynn, tell us the new information you're getting on this key question. Especially can we answer it yet? Does the New York City Police department believe this is some kind of an accident or did they believe it was some kind of deliberate attack?

GINGRAS: Yes. At this point we're learning from sources that they do believe a law enforcement official that this was some sort of accident that happened. I want to zoom right past me because now you have a good shot of that car that's perched up against the pole. According to law enforcement sources, we're also learning that the driver of this car is in custody and also my colleague (inaudible) said that that driver does have a history of drunk driving.

[12:45:01] So some of this information now trickling out about the driver of that car. We also know that that 13 people according to FDNY were injured in this crash. That's at minimum.

We're still getting numbers about that. But as of now the FDNY reporting 13 people injured and w also have confirm -- confirmed rather that one person was killed. So, a lot of new information coming out.

Some of that preliminarily, as you can imagine, this is a chaotic hectic scene with a lot NYPD, FDNY and medical personnel here trying to just piece everything together. But certainly those are the main points. I do see someone from the NYPD coming toward us so it's possible we'll get more information here at the scene.

But John, I do want to point out to you the layout of this area because I was explaining it to you last time I talked to you. This is 7th Avenue. As you see, it is an open road.

So the car would have had to be traveling down 7th Avenue and then somehow got into this accident. That's now -- the car perched up against that light post. As you can see here to my right, this is a whole area that has just recently been transformed into --OK, sorry, taking a moment there because you can hear the police telling us we're going to need to pushback because they need to get the bomb squad to actually get into this area.

I'm not sure if that's precautionary thing or if they had some Intel that makes them believe they need to get the bomb squad in there. But we're being told we need to pushback at this point. So I'm going to send it back to you once we get into our new position John at this point.

KING: Brynn Gingras on the scene. And you hear, Harry Houck stay with us. I just want to ask Harry if you're still on the phone. Obviously, you heard the information that they believe very much this is an accident. Our justice correspondent reporting -- our justice police reporting the driver has a history of DWI.

So, the first instinct is this is this is horrible but it is not terrorism and yet they bring in the bomb squad. That's a routine procedure I would assume or does that raise any alarms?

HOUCK: Well, I think probably they still don't know what they have yet, so the fact they want to check out that vehicle. You know, from the video on scene and I -- you see nobody around the vehicle loop. I did see two looked like might have been police officers at the crime scene, officers that were checking out the vehicle.

So, I think maybe to be safe to bring in the bomb squad and then to make sure, you know, they're going to cover all their bases to make sure there's no bomb inside that vehicle or maybe they have information that maybe from the driver that there is a bottom inside the vehicle. I don't know. It's really, you know, with the environment we're living in today, as police officers, you've got to make sure, even something like this that just might be an accident, and because of the history of these things occurring all over the world, that you bring the bomb squad in just to check it out to make sure that that vehicle is safe before they move that vehicle. And the possibility that no bomb-- or there's no bomb in the vehicle.

But I don't see people being moved away from that vehicle. You know, from the video I'm seeing and watching on the television is that there are some people standing around watching and we tend to think that if they have a real tip that there was a bomb inside that vehicle, they will clear that entire area.

KING: That's an excellent point it's more like -- much more like a routine precaution triple check, quadruple check just to be sure. But it does not seem-- not seem at all to be any sense of panic or overconcern at the scene as you see several individuals standing across the car. Harry, I want thank you for your time and expertise. Our correspondents on the scene are going to continue to report.

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back we'll bring you any updates of this tragedy. At least one dead 13 injured, we are the vehicle accident in the heart of Times Square at lunch hour, New York City.

Also big news here in Washington the fallout from the Justice Department decision to name a special prosecutor to take over the Russia election meddling investigation. Stay with us.

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[12:52:35] KING: Welcome back. We will continue to monitor developments in Times Square. Again, one person killed, as many as 13 injured in a vehicle accident. We're keeping our eyes on that. We'll bring you the latest when we get new developments.

Back to politics, on Capitol Hill there is one immediate Republican benefit to having a new special prosecutor for the Russian meddling investigation. That benefit is this, GOP lawmakers will now not be asked constantly about whether we need a special prosecutor for the Russia election meddling investigation. But the sense of relief among Republicans runs deeper than that. More and more Republican lawmakers were already growing tired of and nervous about White House actions. And even those who don't think a special prosecutor is necessary think appointing Robert Mueller was a brilliant choice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: He's as good as it gets. I mean, his credentials are impeccable. He served in the Bush administration, the Obama administration.

No, he is unstealable in terms of his credentials. His background and I think your point is well taken. He's -- in the latter part of his career, he has nothing to prove. He's been silent politically. It doesn't get any better than Robert Mueller if you're going to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If you're going to do it. One of the big questions is, does this mean Robert Mueller has this investigation and the other investigation (inaudible) then go forward at full speed or does this as Lindsey Graham said today, perhaps end up overshadowing or stalling some of the congressional investigations because people say, while the special prosecutor is doing this, special prosecutor is doing that, we should keep our hands out of that?

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: I don't think anyone, especially if you're on the Intel committee, I don't think they're going to stop doing what they're doing because it would look like they were a, you know, slopping off their responsibilities to someone else. That said, we'll have to see. I don't think we know yet.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: I think the FBI investigation is at least three parts of a criminal probe as far as we know has always been more important. It's also been more important for the sanctity of that investigation or those investigations to go forward. And this takes some of the pressure off of Congress. Congress can go as far as it wants, as far as it can. People will show up or they won't show up to testify. But as long as the FBI investigation goes forward, it gives both Republican lawmakers and also the American public some sense that the main job is being done.

KING: And you may have heard an important point earlier in the program about how Republicans increasingly were pushing back at the White House anyway. Even before we got this announcement, Republicans seeing potential political damage to themselves and just having frustration with -- I'm told Chairman Burr and the Intelligence Committee has been mad the White House is not cooperating more robustly with his committee.

This was already happening. They wanted to call up James Comey, the fired FBI director who apparently took obvious notes of these meetings in which he said the president according to these memos put pressure on him to shut down the Flynn investigation.

[12:55:08] Did other things that Comey found inappropriate but essentially said, I'm going to take this as long as he doesn't mess with the people doing the investigation. The president can, you know, try to pressure me.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority said, "I think we need to hear from him as soon as possible in public to respond to the issues that have been raised in recent days." Do we get that testimony or does Congress now say, well, we've got to let Bob Mueller get up to speed? Let him talk to Jim Comey first, the second (ph) push back days, weeks, and months. What do we know?

OLIVER KNOX, YAHOO! NEWS: It depends whether Bob Mueller ask them to push it back days, weeks, and months. I think his input there, they're going to take their cues from him. I do think it's difficult for the Congress to back off because there are so many parts of this story. My colleague Mike Isikoff reporting that President Trump sent a private message to Michael Flynn as recently as late April saying -- telling him to stay strong.

There are so many threats --

KING: Late April, let me interrupt you. Late April just for those watching at home, fired in late mid February. In late April, the president of the United States sending a message to Michael Flynn, stay strong.

KNOX: So there's so many threads to this that I don't know that actually the Congress can stop. And if there's any sort of political remedy down the line that they need to take up, then they're going to have a basis for that. They're going to need to know what's going on. So I don't know that this takes a ton of pressure off the Congress frankly.

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: The members may want to discuss what Russia's role was. And it maybe the case that they can focus more of their probe on Russian interference and things that everyone agrees we don't want Russian interference. I mean, Mueller can focus more on Trump. I mean, what went wrong.

Mueller can probably do everything but maybe his investigation will focus on Trump. Because the Republican members are little wary of taking on their president from their own party of course.

KING: They are now. I think as we get close to the 2018, the question is --

BACON: Yes.

KING: -- do they decide they need to. Do they decide they need to that he is a tainted brand and they need to get separation? That will be one of the big questions as we go forward. For Republicans, you know, picking up the front page everyday, going online everyday, the last week or 10 days has been tough for them that's why they need a separation.

Thanks for joining us for "Inside Politics." Thanks for dealing with the breaking news with us from my group here, those who are watching at home. Jim Sciutto is in the chair after a very quick break.

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