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Bush 43, Obama Blast Trump Without Ever Uttering His Name; Residents Express Desperation In Louisiana's 'Cancer Alley'; FL Police Investigating 3 Sniper Style Murders. Aired 12n-1p ET

Aired October 21, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Tweeting this just hours before the funeral, the president saying this, "I hope the fake news media keeps talking about wacky Congresswoman Wilson and that she as a representative is killing the Democrat Party. We'll have more on all of these angles.

But first, let's get the latest details on the Niger ambush investigation. CNN diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, joining us now. So, Michelle, is the Pentagon any closer to figure out what went wrong?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: That's the question. It seems like much of what we're learning that is new is about the investigation itself and not necessarily about what happened that night now nearly -- or two weeks ago.

I mean, we know that the FBI is assisting the investigation. We know that U.S. intelligence is involved so are all branches of the military. We know now that all of the members of this team have been interviewed.

What we don't know are details that many, including people like Senator John McCain, who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. You know, details like were these soldiers, while they were attacked in their unarmored vehicles, or were they outside of them?

I mean, he's been vocal about it. Others have raised questions about, you know, why aren't these very basic details of that night readily available to the public and sources have told CNN that even the secretary of state himself has been dismayed by the lack of information.

But he also made it a point to tell reporters forcefully on Thursday that, you know, don't try to confuse your wanting more information with the Pentagon's ability to provide it. That, you know, they very well may know many more details than they are making public at this point.

What we are learning, though, today, we're hearing from the State Department. After there's been some reporting out there from the "Los Angeles Times" that the U.S. ambassador in Niger allegedly pushed back, was resisting the military's desire to expand support for troops there. That they wanted things like drones, additional medical support, and that the ambassador was resistant, but the State Department is saying there was no denial of any support. What they're not commenting on, though, is was there any pushback at all.

So, what they told us was the embassy and U.S., AFRICOM continuously engaged to address security threat to all U.S. government personnel and operations. This close cooperation ensures activities are coordinated, effective, and sustainable.

The president directs disagreements, while are rare, are quickly referred to the secretary of defense and secretary of state for immediate resolution. Again, the State Department is telling us today that there was no denial of the additional support there in Niger that the military had wanted -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much, in D.C.

All right. Senator Lindsey Graham issuing a stark warning in the wake of the Niger ambush. Graham not only says the war on terror is heading to Africa, the U.S. also needs to beef up forces there or face a potential 9/11-style attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think most Americans want to do the following (inaudible) us and our allies who want us to deal with it. They don't want another 9/11. We don't want the next 9/11 to come from Niger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: I want to bring in Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, a CNN military analyst, to discuss all of this. So, General, you know, Senator Graham warning of that potential 9/11 attack originating potentially from Niger. Do you see that as plausible, a legitimate concern?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I don't, Fred, this is a lot of hyperbole. Let me back off a little bit because as the commander in Europe, I supported Africa Command, which has headquarters in Stuttgart.

And what I'll tell you is these kinds of operations had been going on for at least a decade and a half. U.S. forces have been in Niger and Mali and Chad and Nigeria in various other countries for the last ten- plus years doing these kinds of operations.

There were over 1,200 operations of this nature last year alone supported by AFRICOM. You know, this is an area that has seen a transformation of various terrorist groups starting with Boko Haram, going to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQAM, and now it's the Islamic State in (inaudible).

All these really cool sexy names that these terrorist groups are naming themselves are basically the same people with in-flow and out- flow of different terrorists. The special forces that have been working with the various Africa troops like the forces from Niger and from Chad have been very good in terms of tamping these elements down.

But all the questions, it surprises me hearing various congressmen and senator question these because they've been receiving the AFRICOM reports now for several years in terms of their posture but also their intelligence requirements. And they know that there are either Special Forces or National Guard forces in many of these countries.

[12:05:12] WHITFIELD: OK, so as it pertains to, now, the ongoing investigation about what happened in Niger, in these four Green berets, who were killed, and now, based on some earlier reporting, it appears that Johnson, La David Johnson's body was found nearly a mile away from the site of the ambush.

What are the answers that you want to know that would better explain the circumstances surrounding the ambush? The purpose of these Green Berets being there? And, you know, how this perhaps can be prevented, what can be learned from this investigation?

HERTLING: Yes, that's the key. Immediately after this failed mission or this mission that went often the rails a little bit, Africa Command did, in fact, start an inquiry and then an investigation. Here's what they're looking for.

I think everybody's jumping on the fact that it was bad intelligence. That certainly could be an element of this, but it could also be potential problems with command and control. Did they have the right cooperation with the African countries they were dealing with?

Was there notification of the people in the embassy and the State Department, exactly what they were doing? Had they been in that area multiple times before and had the enemy in this case, it was probably either a combination of Boko Haram or the Islamic State in the Sahel, had they postured to the point they knew what they would be doing because they had patrolled in that area and knew their routine?

Was there the right kind of support in terms of medical evacuation or overhead cover? Had the right kind of coordination been done with the French government in terms of air support? All of these things are going to be part of an investigation and the investigating officer will be asked to answer a list of questions.

So, if you hear anyone, Fred, coming out immediately saying it was an intelligence failure, dismiss that. That could possibly be a part of it. But I got to tell you, having done this kind of investigations before, there were probably many, many factors that contributed to the unfortunate death of these four American soldiers.

WHITFIELD: All right. General, let me also ask you about the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, with her op-ed on cnn.com, talking about why the president is sending her to Africa. She'll meet with leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

She's writing that, quote, "While we'll take a critical look at what the U.N. is doing on the ground, we'll also meet DRC, Congo, and South Sudanese leaders to deliver a strong message that their governments need to stop making the work of workers and peacekeepers more difficult.

So, General, this administration's effort to stop terror from spreading in Africa, how influential, potentially influential can Halley be on this front?

HERTLING: Well, she can be influential as any diplomat can. What I'd say, Fred, the couple of nations you mentioned are important and the issues that she's going to address are important, but let me state this. There are 54 different countries in Africa. Each one of them has their own challenges.

If you were to take a map of the United States, you could overlay it on Africa three times. That's how large the continent is and the various challenges that Africa have venture all the way from terrorist operations to human trafficking, to female genitalia mutilation.

All of these things are factors and certainly the U.N. has a requirement to continue to try and pull the governments of Africa together to address these issues. But that's also one of the challenges that AFRICOM has as they deal with these countries.

One of the things that's interesting, Chad has been placed on the banned entry list. Chad was one of the better partners for the United States in the center of West Africa and to ban their citizens from entering into the United States is having an effect as well.

So, you know, Ambassador Haley will certainly contribute to helping solve the problems, but there are a lot of issues in Africa that it would take days to discuss and have a conference about it and see what kind of action he can take to tamp some of these issues down.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it's a huge continent. All right. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you.

Still ahead, a war erupting within the GOP. Steve Bannon, one of President Trump's most controversial allies, now slamming a former Republican president at a GOP fundraiser.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: I want to apologize up front to any of the Bush folks outside and in this audience, OK, because there's not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, so what does this say about the state of the Republican Party?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:14:10] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Despite his very public firing this summer, Steve Bannon is fiercely defending President Trump's ideals to the Republican establishment. Bannon delivered a blistering attack on former President George W. Bush after bush made headlines this week for a speech in which he rejected Trump era nationalism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BANNON: President Bush to me embarrassed himself. Speechwriter wrote a highfaluting speech. It's clear he didn't understand anything he was talking about. He equates the industrial revolution, the agricultural revolution, globalization. He has no earthly idea whether he's coming or going.

Just like it was when he was president of the United States. I want to apologize to any of the Bush folks outside, in this audience, OK, because there has not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush's.

[12:15:05] The rise of China started with the Clintons and Bush. When they had this great theory that you let them into the World Trade Organization and give them most favored nations, that they're going to become a liberal democracy as they get better, OK, and they're going to become more free market capitalists. This is not a small mistake. This is a strategic mistake of incalculable problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: CNN's Boris Sanchez joins me now from the White House. So, Boris, you know, was Bannon outwardly promoting President Trump or did it seem more promoting his far-right agenda?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A bit of both, Fred. Rather than promoting President Trump, you could say he was defending him, as he vowed to do when he left his position as close adviser to the president here at the White House.

This is something that we've seen Steve Bannon do before, though, to a different degree. He's gone after current Republican lawmakers. Those in the establishment like mitch McConnell and Bob Corker, but the degree of animosity here is certainly different.

He questioned a former president's intelligence, even suggesting that President Bush didn't know what he was saying during that speech on Thursday where he talked about the dangers of nativism and protectionism.

He also alluded to the idea that bigotry is emboldened in the United States and that our politics is now more susceptible to conspiracy theories. Now, if you go deeper and read between the lines, he's obviously alluding to economic nationalism and things like birtherism, part of the track record of this administration.

It's clear who the former president is talking about. But we've never seen Steve Bannon, someone who was in the current administration, go after a former president using this language and in this way. He is, again, following up with what he vowed to do when he left the White House, which is to attack anyone that stood in front of Donald Trump's agenda.

WHITFIELD: And Boris, meantime, what does the day look like for the president?

SANCHEZ: Yes, there are no public events on the schedule for today, Fred. He's currently at Trump National Golf Course in Sterling, Virginia. It's now the 83rd day he's spent at a property bearing the Trump name during his presidency.

He was on Twitter earlier today, though, tweeting about Frederica Wilson, as well as the stock market, and this tweet about John F. Kennedy. He writes, quote, "Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as president, the long blocked and classified JFK files to be opened."

A bit of context here the president has until October 23rd to determine whether or not these long-classified FBI and CIA files pertaining to JFK would be released. Of course, the president, no stranger to conspiracy theories about the 35th president.

You'll recall that during the heated campaign trail during the Republican primaries, he talked about this idea that Ted Cruz's father was somehow involved with Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of former President Kennedy -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Boris Sanchez, at the White House, thanks so much.

All right, let's talk more about all of this with Niger Innis, the national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality and the executive director of the teaparty.net. Also with me, Basel Smikle, he is the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party. Welcome to both of you this Saturday.

All right, so Niger, you first, you know, pretty scathing words coming from Steve Bannon. He said there hasn't been a more destructive presidency than that of George W. Bush's, even questioning Bush's intelligence. So, your thoughts, is he further dividing the GOP? Is he taking the lead of something new about the GOP?

NIGER INNIS, NATIONAL SPOKESMAN, CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY: I think there's no doubt that there is a populous economic nationalist wing of the GOP that has been s4strengthened by, you know, not just Steve Bannon and the rise of Donald Trump, but quite frankly what came before it which was, of course, the Tea Party and there's no doubt that Steve Bannon is among those leaders.

I actually saw him earlier this week at a book signing for Laura Ingraham, for her new book. I have to say, you know, even though I'm a firm part of the deplorable crowd, but I'm also a former supporter of President Bush.

I think he's a decent man. I think history is going to treat him a lot better than he was treated in the closing days of his administration. But I think, you know, it's tragic that the Republican Party seems to be in a circular firing squad because this really should be a golden age for the party.

WHITFIELD: So, how potentially damaging do you think it is?

INNIS: I don't think so. You know, I think if we can get out of our own way and realize we have more dominance with both houses of Congress, the presidency, two-thirds of the state's legislatures.

[12:20:05] More dominance by the Republican Party in our country since the 1920s. We've got wages that are going up. We got a stock market that is booming. Jobless claims at a near half century low.

This is a good time to be a Republican and be a conservative. If the economic nationalists and the more establishment wing can get our act together and realize the enemy are socialist Democrats. No offense to my friend, Basil.

WHITFIELD: OK, the wages going up, that has been disputed, however. So, Basil, you know, do you see Bannon as deepening the rift within the Republican Party? Should Democrats be seizing on this moment, you know, devoting resources on combating Bannon?

BASIL SMIKLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW YORK STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, you know, not only do I think he's deepening the rift, but I also think this dialogue is dangerous for the country. What I think Bannon and Donald Trump have been successful in is actually taking away the middle ground in our political discourse nationally and they seem to have done so with impunity.

Why that's dangerous is because there are folks that I think moderate voices that would like to be heard. What about those Evangelicals that actually lifted George W. Bush to the presidency? They've been largely silent.

Outside of Senators McCain and Corker, I want to hear more from Republicans in this Senate and in the House trying to moderate a lot of this language. But, you know, to me when I think about it, and, Boris touched on it earlier in his reporting.

When you combine the use of a lot of the dark money over the last ten years by Republicans, the extraordinary gerrymandering that they've done across the country, the infusion of the narrative, the birther narrative and other sort of very harsh messaging, they've created this.

And they cannot control what they've wrought. And I think the challenge there, again, is that moderate voices need to be more prominent in this dialogue and my fear is that they won't be. And I do think that that's dangerous for our country.

WHITFIELD: And Niger, this all comes ahead of tonight's hurricane relief concert. All five living presidents will be in attendance. If the past week is any indication, there may be somehow an expression of some dissension about the kind of messaging coming out of the White House. How important is it in your view to see all of these presidents in this forum trying to advocate relief for hurricane victims and with the absence, however, of the sitting president? Does that send a particular message in your view, Niger?

INNIS: No, I don't think so. I think the speeches earlier this week by former President Obama and Bush was a much more powerful message. Tonight's effort is a very positive message to relieve those in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Houston and Florida. And that's a very good thing.

I always enjoy seeing our former presidents, regardless of the partisan rancor that might have occurred during their administrations, coming together. I think it's symbolic of the strength of our Republican and our Democratic process. So, I think that's always a good thing.

I think, though, that these -- many of the political media elites don't recognize that the economic populous rage that's taking place not just in the United States but in our neighbors across the pond, Britain, in Germany, and other parts of Europe, even in Spain, you've got this populous economic surge that's taking place. And I think the more that they attack President Trump, ironically, the stronger he's going to get.

WHITFIELD: Basil, real quick, what about this unifying message or does it send a message of unity when you see these five living presidents, even though the sitting president, you know, may not be present on stage with them in Texas tonight.

SMIKLE: I actually agree. I think there is a unifying message to that. That across political party lines the most powerful leaders that our country has produced will come together to support the people in this country. That is powerful because no matter what party you belong to, the presidency, the executive office does demand a tremendous amount of respect.

And I think to Niger's point earlier, the scary part about what we're seeing is the completion of economic and ethnic nationalism. And that's something even the former presidents despite their party differences, I don't think played into as much as we're seeing done now.

So, it will be great to see them all together. I hope a tremendous amount of goodwill come from it.

WHITFIELD: All right. Basil Smikle, Niger Innis, let's leave there for now. Thanks so much, Gentlemen, and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:29:30]

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. In just a few hours, all five living U.S. presidents will be at a hurricane relief concert in Texas. In recent days, the President's Club has been targeting its newest member, President Donald Trump.

President George W. Bush and President Obama both sending some thinly veiled attacks at Trump for dividing country and they did this without ever uttering Trump's name. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.

BARACK OBAMA, 44TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Some of the politics we see, now we thought we put that to bed. I mean, that's looking 50 years back. It's the 21st Century. Not the 19th Century.

If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you're not going to be able to govern them. You won't be able to unite them later if that's how you start.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, joining me now to discuss, CNN Presidential Historian, Douglas Brinkley. So how unprecedented is this for Trump's predecessors to criticize him and in this fashion, even though his name was not uttered?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, you know, there's almost an unwritten rule that you try not to criticize a sitting president if you're an ex-president. There have been times when of course this didn't hold up.

Theodore Roosevelt famously in 1909 left office and he had -- he was Republican and he beat up on William Howard Taft, his hand-chosen successor. But in modern times, we really haven't seen anything like this. And it tells you the level of frustration that these five presidents have about what's going on with Donald Trump right now.

It's going to be quite an evening at Texas A&M to see all five of those presidents together kind of unified in a spirit of talking about what's right in America, the volunteerism, first response and remembering them that these hurricanes don't happen in a day. We've got a lot of work ahead of us in the coming year to get those states and territories back.

WHITFIELD: So it says something too about, say, the patience or even the urgency that, for example, you know, Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, you know, were weighing before they decided to make their very calculated statements.

BRINKLEY: Well, even though both of those speeches by Bush and Obama are being morphed together, there are two different circumstances. Barack Obama has left office, really doesn't want to be constantly having to respond to Donald Trump. But Trump keeps bringing Obama into the news. He has claim that President Obama had created a felony by wiretapping him.

Previously, he claimed Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States, that he was a fake president. So it's a constant drumbeat of criticism of Obama from Trump. And by and large, Obama's stayed out of it. But we are now in a political season. Barack Obama was -- gave that speech, speeches, in New Jersey and Virginia. And he's willing now to kind of square off on at least against Trumpism, if not Donald Trump by name.

WHITFIELD: Do you see that potentially the weight of George W. Bush's or even Obama's words could impact upcoming elections?

BRINKLEY: I don't think Obama's but George W. Bush reminds me of a warning call. It's a lot like Dwight Eisenhower when he gave his farewell address. I mean Bush is warning our country what happens when you think is friendly nationalism suddenly, you know, turns into a kind of malignant, you know, nativism. And that speech is going to live for a long time.

And already we saw Steve Bannon, last evening, squaring off on George W. Bush, saying you are one of the most, the most disastrous presidents in American history. So George W. Bush, who's wanted to stay out of politics, now finds himself a bull's-eye of the Bannon Alt Right Movement.

WHITFIELD: I wonder if one has to believe that he had a level of expectation of that. Because whenever anyone comes out, even when they were, you know, once in to political office, maybe especially when they were once in political office if they speak against this president or is critical, then, you know, there's an unleashing so to speak of criticism on that individual.

BRINKLEY: Well, there is. And that's one of the reasons, you know, George W. Bush said, I want out of Washington. He's a lot -- his hero is Harry Truman who went back to independence. George W. Bush went back to Dallas. Built his library, his institute wrote a best selling memoir, works with wounded warriors. He wasn't looking forward to entering the fray.

But after Charlottesville, and you have a president of the United States not seeming unable to denounce a neo-Nazis and anti-Semites, it started a real worry within serious members of the Republican Party. And we saw Bob Corker. We saw John McCain. There are more that are saying that this doesn't represent us. Donald Trump, we have to not be a Republican first, we have to be an American first. And Trump is doing damage to the United States. I thought it was a courageous speech by George W. Bush in New York.

[12:35:08] WHITFIELD: Yes. Sounding like President Bush and Obama thinking out loud that the necessity far-outweighed any risk that comes with verbal criticism. All right. Douglas Brinkley, thank you so much.

All right. Still ahead, residents in one Louisiana town are convinced that toxic chemicals from a nearby factory are putting their health at risk. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT TAYLOR III, RESIDENT: Husband and wife die from cancer across the street. Husband over here died from cancer. Both of his sons got cancer. Where all these cancer coming from?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: State regulators say there is no imminent threat. But the community does not believe it. How they're fighting back, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:39:54] WHITFIELD: People in a small Louisiana community say that on some days it is literally sickening to be outside. The Environmental Protection Agency says a local factory is releasing a chemical that's putting them at the highest risk in the country of developing cancer from air toxins. State regulators say, the threat is not imminent. But local people say cases of cancer are common. They're afraid and they're begging for help.

Victor Blackwell has this CNN investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GERALDINE WATKINS, RESIDENT: The air is so foul. The water is so messed up. And so many people are ill and dying of cancer.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Geraldine Watkins is afraid. Her family has lived in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, for almost 40 years. She loves the people. But recently she learned that she and more than 20,000 others who live nearby have the highest risk in the country of developing cancer from air toxins. The toxin in this case is chloroprene.

According to data from the EPA's National Air Toxics Assessment or NATA, the risk for people who live in this area, highlighted in red, ranges from roughly 5 to more than 20 times the national average.

WATKINS: I was outraged, because I'm trying to figure out why people hadn't been informed of this earlier.

(voice-over): The source is this plant, owned by Denka, the Japanese company bought it from Dupont in the late 2015. The company makes a synthetic rubber found in wet suits, electric insulations and other common products. The plant has admitted chloroprene is part of the process for more than 40 years.

We asked the EPA for an interview. They declined, but agreed to answer questions via e-mail. The EPA tells us 99 percent of the chloroprene that's admitted by facilities across the country comes from this plant.

In 2010, the EPA determined chloroprene is likely carcinogenic to humans. Meaning study show, it likely causes cancer in humans. And EPA says there are many other health problems associated with exposure to chloroprene.

TAYLOR III: I grew up with a chronic kidney disease all my life.

(voice-over): Robert Taylor III says, he grew up near the plant and that he was in and out of hospitals for most of his childhood. He moved away after high school and had no problems for more than 20 years. Then, just six months after moving back, Taylor says his kidneys failed. And Taylor says cancer diagnoses are common in his neighborhood.

TAYLOR: Husband and wife died from cancer across the street. Husband over here died from cancer. Both of his sons got cancer. Where all these cancer coming from? These people filling us up with this poison.

(on camera): In the spring of 2016, the EPA installed six canisters in the neighborhood surrounding this plant. They're collecting air samples. They're tested every three days to find out just how much of this toxic chemical is in the air. And for more than a year now, the EPA has repeatedly found concentrations of chloroprene that are 10, 50, 100 times and in one case more than 700 times the amount. It says, is at the upper limit of acceptability for cancer risk.

(voice-over): And for more than a year, the EPA's testing found average chloroprene concentrations that significantly exceed that amount. At one site, more than 49 times the recommended amount.

CHUCK CARR BROWN, SECRETARY LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY: They say it's 10 times or 20 times or some order magnitude times higher than what a standard is. Well, there is no standard.

(voice-over): Chuck Carr Brown is Louisiana's secretary of Environmental Quality. He's right about those spikes. The EPA has not set a legal limit for chloroprene emissions. It says, it's a years' long process. But according to this May 2016 internal memo obtained by CNN, federal regulators have set a recommendation based on cancer risk. An annual average of 0.2 micrograms of chloroprene per cubic meter is what it calls the upper limit of acceptability. Just remember the number, 0.2. It's represented by the red line on this graph.

Now, look at the average chloroprene concentration found in the air at those testing sites between May 2016 and August 2017. One of those testing sites is here, near Fifth Ward Elementary School, just a few hundred yards from the plant. We found that the average concentration in the air near the school over 17 months was more than 34 times the EPA's cancer risk recommendation of what's acceptable. The state's top environmental regulator who says part of his mission is to protect human health, also says this.

BROWN: 0.2 doesn't mean anything to me. I want to get to as close as zero as I possibly can to artificially target a number that you can't -- you can't legally enforce it absolutely makes no sense.

(voice-over): Jorge Lavastida is an executive officer of the company and the manager of the plant. (on camera): So this company doesn't believe that chloroprene causes cancer?

[12:45:01] JORGE LAVASTIDA, DENKA EXECUTIVE: That is correct.

(voice-over): This summer, Denka asked the EPA for a correction. The company commissioned a study which argues that chloroprene classification should be changed from likely carcinogenic to humans to possibly carcinogenic. And at 0.2 should be 31.2, more than 150 times the EPA's cancer risk recommendation.

LAVASTIDA: We have looked at the study that they did or with that, how they came up with that 0.2 when we have found gaps in the science of it.

(voice-over): The EPA stands by its findings. And despite its skepticism, the company promised the state to install control technologies at the plant to reduce chloroprene emissions.

LAVASTIDA: That includes four projects that reduce our emissions by 85 percent. We're investing $20 million on those projects. It's going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars of operating expenses when those are in. Very aggressive schedule. And it's our number one priority.

(voice-over): However, equipment that was supposed to have been installed by September is now slated for the end of the year. Secretary Brown says there's nothing to worry about.

BROWN: There's available control technology is an acceptable protocol.

(on camera): But why not start with the risk to the people? Why not start with that number?

BROWN: That's exactly what I'm doing.

(on camera): Every time I've brought up the 0.2 number, you say it's not enforceable, it has been promulgated, it's not a standard. You go back to the technology of an enforceable standard there from whatever the company it installs.

BROWN: And that's how you scientifically --

(on camera): Why not start what the risk is to the people?

BROWN: We've got a protocol in place that our data shows us there's no imminent threat.

WATKINS: You got to live here to try and breathe the air. Drink the water. See the children so sick. Watch your people die. If you don't live in the area, you can say anything. And everybody's supposed to belief that. If they can't cut the emissions down, shut them down until they can repair them. Then bring the plant back up. I don't want anybody to lose their job. But we can no longer live in these emissions. TAYLOR III: We're not just going to sit around and let them push us around.

(voice-over): Taylor is part of a class action lawsuit to force the company to reduce the emissions to meet the EPA cancer risk recommendation. He's joined on behalf of his 10-year-old daughter, Nayve Love. He says she develop asthma and needs to use an oxygen machine several times per week. He blames the emissions.

TAYLOR III: They don't have any compassion for human life. My little girl is 10 years old, she innocent.

(voice-over): And at 76 years old, Watkins hopes that federal regulators, state regulators, someone will force Denka to adhere to the cancer risk recommendation for her sake and for the sake of her family.

WATKINS: Let me live. Whatever time I have left. Let it be decent. We need clean air. We need help to get this done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: Now, of course, an important question here is, are there more actual cases of cancer in those communities with the highest risk of developing cancer? Well, the state does not know. And here's why. Because cancer rates are measured at the parish level, not at the smallest census track level like the EPA toxin study.

So right now, there is no way to know if just that part of the parish around the plant has a disproportionate amount of cancer cases. But that's going to change soon. A new law in Louisiana requires the LSU tumor registry which keeps track of cancer numbers to publish cancer stats at the smaller census track level. And then will be able to compare the EPA's estimated cancer risk to the actual number of cancer diagnosis. Fred, back to you.

WHITFIELD: Thank you so much, Victor Blackwell.

[12:48:49] All right, still head, terror in Tampa, Florida, police urging residents in one neighborhood to walk in groups and keep their lights on at night as they search for a person who has gunned down three people in a span of ten days.

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WHITFIELD: Hi. Welcome back. Police in Tampa, Florida, are offering a $25,000 reward for information on a series of three sniper-style murders. The bodies were found within a half mile of each other over a ten-day span, making police think they could all be linked.

This surveillance footage shows a person walking around the area around the time of the first murder when 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell was shot at a bus stop October 9th. Four days later, the body of Monica Hoffa was found a few blocks days a way in a vacant lot. The most recent victim is 20-year-old Anthony Naiboa. Anthony, who had autism, was killed Thursday night after riding the wrong bus home from work. Tampa Police are urging people in the area to travel in large groups and be aware of their surroundings.

So much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM, but first, meet this week's CNN hero, a woman spreading literacy to children living in poverty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REBECCA CONSTANTINO, CNN HERO (voice-over): For a child, the library can be a magical place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm officially the most awesome girl in the world.

(on camera): It can transform you academically, but it can also nurture you emotionally.

(voice-over): What people don't realize is that school libraries are sometimes not funded at all. We provide libraries for under-served communities and schools.

Our whole goal is to spread literacy and the benefits of literacy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:54:58] WHITFIELD: To see Rebecca and her team transform a library, go to CNNHeroes.com.

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WHITFIELD: Hello, again. And welcome back. Good afternoon now. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thank you so much for being with me.

All right, we begin this hour with a growing rift within the Republican Party and the controversial face who may be spearheading the divide, Steve Bannon, is fiercely defending President Trump's ideals while delivering a searing attack against former President George W. Bush. Bush made headlines this week for a speech in which he rejected Trump-era nationalism. Listen to just some of Bannon's remarks last night.

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[13:00:00] STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: President Bush to me embarrassed himself. Speechwriter wrote a highfalutin speech. It's clear he didn't understand anything he was talking about. He equates the industrial revolution, the agricultural revolution, globalization, he has no earthy idea when he's coming or going.