Return to Transcripts main page


Forecasted Rain could Trigger Flash Floods and Mudslides; Bare- Knuckle Brawl for Mississippi Senate Seat; Dow Plunges as Tech Shares Tumble; Federal Air Marshals Accused of Hundreds of Firearms Mishaps. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired November 20, 2018 - 10:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Rain is in the forecast tomorrow for Northern California. And that might sound like a good thing, but it could bring both help and problems for firefighters battling the ongoing camp fire.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The rain could trigger flash floods and mudslides. It would also affect the crews searching for the remains of the victims. We know this morning at least 79 people have died. Almost - 700, rather, remain unaccounted for in this wildfire.

Paul Vercammen joins us from Paradise, California. Paul, you know, what are they up against as they continue to fight this right now?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's just show you, Poppy and Jim, what they're up against is an immense debris field, never seen before in California because you never had it where a small city was obliterated. Look at the restaurant that was behind me. You can see the chairs where people sat.

And one of the worries for first responders, do you see all of that debris and ash? It can be moved along by water rather quickly. And what they fear is lots of the stuff is going to go down the hill, as they call it here in Butte County, and what could complicate things for first responders is if that becomes an ashy slurry mess, and they're on these mountain roads trying to take care of their business, they will be in treacherous conditions. They're also worried about people sleeping outside. They have done a very good job from what we have seen so far in moving people out of makeshift camps and into the shelters, but that's what they're worried about, this becoming one muddy problem in the middle of what is continuing to be a cleanup of a fire.

SCIUTTO: Last thing those poor people there need. And thanks for continuing to follow that story. We're going to keep at it because the suffering continues there.

HARLOW: It does continue.

OK. Let's take a quick look at the markets right now. About an hour into trading and the Dow is off 472 points, largely a sell-off driven by concerns about technology companies. We'll get a live update from the New York Stock Exchange next.


[10:36:55] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back.

In just hours, a highly anticipated debate takes place for the Mississippi Senate seat, a seat that once looked like a slam dunk for Republicans. That until the Republican candidate, Cindy Hyde Smith, was caught on tape joking about going to a public hanging. In another recording, she said she would welcome certain forms of voter suppression. Here team later said she was joking about that as well. But it has really opened the door for the Democratic candidate Mike Espy, a former Congressman, who if he wins will be the first black senator from Mississippi in over a century. The two face off in a run- off one week from today.

Adam Ganucheau is with us, political reporter from "Mississippi Today." Good morning. Thank you for being here.

I'm fascinated by this for so many reasons, including the fact that this is a state that the president won by nearly 18 percent. This should be in the bag for Republicans. It is not, largely because of these controversial comments. Could we see an Alabama-style upset on Tuesday in your state?

ADAM GANUCHEAU, POLITICAL REPORTER, "MISSISSIPPI TODAY": Well, I think Democrats and Republicans both are now thinking it's possible, Poppy. You know, it's a tough thing for a Democrat in Mississippi to win. I guess that's the bottom line. But reports this week have Espy down just five points. And as you said, in Mississippi, that's a really big deal. These two videos that have surfaced in the last week or two, you know, really, I think, have tightened this race and made sort of this national intrigue and brought a lot of out of state cash to Mississippi.

HARLOW: You know, what I think is interesting is sort of the defense that the Republican candidate, that she and her team are taking here because - I mean, she's essentially taking a page Hyde Smith is out of the Trump playbook. Because Espy called her a walking stereotype who is an embarrassment to the state, those are his words. She responds on Twitter saying, is it still OK to have a sense of humor in America? Isn't it? I mean, are the people of Mississippi laughing?

GANUCHEAU: Well, you know, it just depends on who you talk to. I will say this. There's not a single Mississippian that either myself or my colleagues have spoken with in the last two weeks who haven't at least heard this video or seen this video.

HARLOW: Interesting.

GANUCHEAU: You know, it is sort of, you know, split by racial lines and of course by party lines to some degree, but without exception, the Mississippians I think who are sort of defending this or you know calling this sort of the attack of the politically correct in America or the state of Mississippi, without exception, those are conservative white people. And most of the people who are upset about this are of course African-Americans in Mississippi.

HARLOW: Which make up about 38 percent of the electorate in Mississippi, African-Americans and let's not forget, Mississippi had more lynchings that are on record, of course, many lynchings were not ever recorded, but more than 600 lynchings on record, making it the highest number in any state in this country. But the way that the Democrat Mike Espy is running is also really interesting to me because he's got some big, you know, Democrat names coming there for him. Democratic Senator Kamala Harris of California, and he's embracing that, but he's also making very clear he's not a liberal, liberal.

[10:40:04] GANUCHEAU: That's right. You have to remember that, you know, Mike Espy has already made history in Mississippi. He was the first African-American Congressman in the state since reconstruction. If he were elected, he would be, like you said, the first African- American senator elected by popular vote in Mississippi, at least, back to reconstruction. But you know he really has embraced Senator Kamala Harris this week, Senator Cory Booker.

You know I was in a classroom this week with some African-American students. Elementary school students, and when Espy was there, he sort of talked about, you know, there have only been 10 U.S. Senators in history of the country that are African-American. So you know he's really pushing this. And you know, I think at this point, that's certainly a strategy of theirs, of sort of to you know, talk about that history, how he's already made history and sort of pitch how he could continue that.

HARLOW: So the president will be there on Monday, trying to make the final push that clearly Hyde Smith's team thinks they need to get over the finish line here for the election on Tuesday. But before you go, there is controversy also that is surrounding Espy. It has to do with lobbying work that he did back in 2010. This was for the Ivory Coast. Of course, the president at the time is now being tried in the ICC for crimes against humanity. There's a controversy over payments that he received. Is that weighing on him?

GANUCHEAU: I mean, I think it's something he certainly had to deal with. He's faced several, you know sort of questions about that. Espy and Hyde Smith actually tonight are having their first and what looks like their only debate before next week's election. I think you know we can expect that to come up. You know, for Espy's part, he's sort of said, you know, backed out of this. He said that in 2011, and then in 2014, there was a Department of Justice filing that suggested he actually got full payment.

HARLOW: Right.

GANUCHEAU: So, it's something that he's going to have to continue to answer to. It's certainly affected his campaign.

HARLOW: Sure. You'll have a late night covering that debate. It will be an interesting and important one. Adam, we appreciate you joining us. Thank you so much.

We're going to be right back with a quick check on the markets. The Dow off 420 points at the moment.


[10:46:45] HARLOW: All right. This morning we're keeping a very close eye on Wall Street. There's why. You've got the Dow off 414 points, largely driven by a sell-off in tech stocks.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now from the New York Stock Exchange, CNN business anchor and anchor of "First Move" Julia Chatterley. So, Julia, we have seen a fair number of days like this. Several hundred points down, 1 percent, 2 percent. Of course, the market over the course of the year, flat, it's actually below flat at this point. But when you're speaking to traders there, what do they see different in the last several days and with today's fall? Are they concerned this is part of something bigger?

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN ANCHOR, "FIRST MOVE": That's a great question, Jim, a great view on the show. OK, I give you two things. One, today for the first time all year, we have completely wiped out the gains that the U.S. equity markets have made. So just in terms of sentiment, people are looking at the situation now and going, does this mean it's a good opportunity to get back into the market and buy? Or do you stand back and see how much further this can fall?

The other thing is, the thing that's been lifting the markets all year has been the big tech stocks, Apple, Amazon, two great examples. And suddenly we're seeing those stocks down 20 percent from the highs. So people are looking at this and going, if they're not going to lead the border markets higher, what is? Those two things I think are very important here. And it's not just about stocks. Oil prices today, they're off 6 percent. There's just a real sense of uncertainty in these markets. And I tie it back to trade and the headlines that we got over the weekend coming into this week. And of course, Poppy, I know you'll know this very well. The Federal Reserve, will Jay Powell continue to hike rates, and the fear remains that he'll overshoot in terms of interest rates. And that weighs growth here too.

HARLOW: All great points. When you look at the sell-off in tech stocks, though, it's the driver today, as you noted. And it doesn't seem like it's going to be a one-off, Julia, or a just for now. I mean what these tech companies are looking at is what's facing Facebook right now after that damning "New York Times" report, and the regulation in Europe with GDRP, and the reality that a reckoning is coming, right? A reckoning is coming for these companies that will fundamentally change the way they have to do business. And that's going to be a prolonged bit of pain for them, no?

CHATTERLEY: I couldn't agree more. I mean we've had Tim Cook this week saying, guys, get ready. More regulation is coming. You're going to have to get used to it. Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has been under the spotlight for the last few months. We have seen that stock punished. Even the ones that we thought were the strongest like Apple. They're having reports now that they're struggling to sell iPhones to the size that they were hoping to. So all around, there's individual stories that mean they're going to be challenged going forward. And it's a real headache. You know and I take it back to trade. A lot of people I'm speaking to right now are saying when you look at the tensions between Vice President Mike Pence at the weekend with Xi Jinping, there's not going to be a solution here either anytime soon. It's tough.


SCIUTTO: Julia Chatterley, we know we're going to keep coming back to you there as we follow this. Thanks very much.

Coming up next, a stunning new CNN investigation uncovers hundreds of mishaps involving armed Federal Air Marshals and their firearms.


[10:54:25] SCIUTTO: Loaded guns left behind in bathrooms. Accidental misfires onboard. Officers hired to keep you safe on airplanes are now accused in a range of gun misuse cases.

HARLOW: This is all according to the CNN investigation that our colleague Drew Griffin did that uncovered more than 200 alleged gun mishaps by Federal Air Marshals. Our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin is here. This is stunning, Drew.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: You know, guys, just last month, yet another air marshal committed suicide. We've reported extensively on these suicides by the air marshals in the past. It's what prompted us to ask the federal government for every record involving mishaps and air marshals. This is what we found.

[10:55:05] (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): These documents released to CNN through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal more than 200 cases of alleged misconduct by Federal Air Marshals involving firearms. Men and women supposedly well trained to use their weapons in one of the most dangerous environments. Misplacing, misfiring. Even accidentally and not so accidentally shooting themselves. Documents released to CNN include 19 accidental discharges, including an air marshal who caused a gunshot wound to his right foot. Another accidentally discharged his firearm in a hotel room, hitting a television in the adjoining room. More than 70 cases of air marshals losing weapons, three times air marshals have left their service weapons in an airplane's bathroom. They've left weapons in restrooms, bars, even a bed, bath, and beyond in New Jersey. In at least 13 cases, alcohol was involved.

After releasing the documents, the Federal Air Marshal Service invited CNN to the Air Marshal Training Academy outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey, where new air marshals are taught how to handle their weapons and top instructor Daniel Kowal admitted the reports are embarrassing.

DANIEL KOWAL, SUPERVISORY AIR MARSHAL: We look at what was the underlying cause, what happened? If and when training failed, how and why did it fail? How do we plug that gap? How do we fix that? Our goal as the training department is to strive for zero percent error.

GRIFFIN: It's hard to compare if air marshals are more or less dangerous with weapons than other law enforcement agencies because the number of air marshals is classified. But former air marshals tell CNN any mishap is unacceptable because their agents operate at 34,000 feet.

HENRY PRESTON, FORMER AIR MARSHAL TRAINING INSTRUCTOR: There's no backup. You have got to take care of business. And you got to do it very quickly and efficiently.

GRIFFIN: Henry Preston, who spent 10 years in the service, says he observed a decline in weapons training and practice, year by year. Inconsistencies he said, that could contribute to mistakes.

PRESTON: They need additional training. There's no doubt about it.

GRIFFIN: Oddly, three of the apparent mishaps occurred during firearms training. In one case, an instructor allegedly threw training bullets called Simunition into an open flame. They exploded, and one staff member was struck in the face by flying debris. Problems are nothing new to the controversial air marshal service. CNN has previously reported agents have continually complained about low morale, low staffing, grueling hours.

A 2012 sleep study obtained by CNN shows 75 percent of domestic air marshals were flying while sleep deficient. That study found that lack of sleep puts them at greater incidents of serious errors. Critics question if air marshals are even necessary. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general slammed the air marshal service and said its contribution to aviation transportation security is questionable. Ohio state professor John Mueller, who studies the efficiencies of security measures, says nearly $1 billion agency is almost worthless.

JOHN MUELLER, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY: Federal Air Marshals simply don't pass muster in terms of cost/benefit analysis. They deliver about 5 cents or maybe 10 cents of benefit for every dollar that's spent on them.

GRIFFIN: Now, the revelation that at least 200 cases where agents made dangerous mistakes is yet another strike against the Federal Air Marshals program.


GRIFFIN: The TSA tells us the air marshals are trained to the highest levels. The problem, Poppy and Jim, is the air marshals we have been talking to say that's just not true. And in 2016, the government accountability office said the record keeping is so bad that it's really hard to tell if these agents are trained and retrained to proper specifications. TSA insists that's all fixed now.

SCIUTTO: The air marshals themselves are identifying this is a problem. I'm curious, just to be clear. Did any of these mishaps happen in the air with passengers onboard? Were passengers put in danger?

GRIFFIN: Several cases where these guns that were left in airplane bathrooms were found by the passengers themselves. That's how these guns were discovered. So the answer is yes. Does that put a passenger in danger? Well, I guess it depends on which passenger picks it up. But I would say absolutely.

HARLOW: I'm struck by so much in your report, but especially the record keeping. The record keeping was so messy that they don't really have the ability to say were these people trained up to snuff or not. How can that be?

GRIFFIN: Poppy, I have been reporting on the air marshal service for 10 years. This is a service that got ramped up right after 9/11. I believe ill thought out and it's been a mess ever since. And since we've hardened the cockpit doors, many people just say we don't need these guys sitting on planes.


SCIUTTO: Interesting question. Thanks very much for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. "At This Hour" with Kate Bolduan starts now.