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FBI Opened Probe on Trump; U.S. Government Shutdown Longest in Nation's History; Building Fire Followed by Explosion in Paris; Jayme Closs Found Alive. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired January 12, 2019 - 04:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): An explosive report shows the FBI was looking into whether the U.S. president was working on behalf of Russia. We'll have details on that.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The government shutdown breaks a record. It is now the longest in U.S. history, neither side budging and Congress has left town.

HOWELL (voice-over): Plus a 13-year-old girl missing for three months found alive. We'll give details about how she escaped her captor.

ALLEN (voice-over): Incredible story there, the family is so, so glad to hold her in their arms.

Welcome to our viewers. We're coming to you live from Atlanta, I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL (voice-over): And I'm George Howell at CNN World Headquarters. NEWSROOM starts next. (MUSIC PLAYING)

HOWELL: 4:00 am on the U.S. East Coast. We are learning that the actions the U.S. president, it was a question that was asked, was the U.S. president a threat to national security?

"The New York Times" says that question prompted the FBI and agents to take unprecedented action.

ALLEN: The newspaper reports the FBI looked into whether Donald Trump, a sitting U.S. president, was working on behalf of Russia and against American interests. According to "The Times," the federal agency started the investigation because it was worried about Mr. Trump's behavior after he fired FBI director James Comey.

The investigation was also triggered by Mr. Trump's own words, his public statements, in which he said he dismissed Comey because of the Russia inquiry.

HOWELL: To be clear, we don't know if the special counsel Robert Mueller is still pursuing that probe as part of his own investigation into Russian collusion. Our colleague, John Berman, spoke to Adam Goldman, one of the authors of "The New York Times" report. Here is what he had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADAM GOLDMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": When the FBI started investigating President Trump, the day Comey was fired, there were two elements essentially to the investigation.

One was a criminal element that dealt with the possibility of obstruction and the other was the counterintelligence element to this. And, you know, I think, while broadly people had assumed that, you know, Mueller was looking at whether the president himself had in some way conspired or colluded with the Russians, you know, nobody had ever laid out exactly what happened.

That's what we sought to do with this story.

The way these things are supposed to work is we're not supposed to find out about it, OK, that the FBI investigated somebody, has a counterintelligence investigation, maybe they suspect, you know, an individual might be working for Russia.

They investigate, they do it quietly, then it goes away.


ALLEN: The White House was quick to respond. Press secretary Sarah Sanders called the story "absurd."

HOWELL: The president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, adds, quote, "The fact that it goes back a year and a half and nothing came of it, it showed a breach of national security, means they found nothing," according to the president's attorney.

ALLEN: Joining me now to talk more about this is Steve Moore, a retired supervisory special agent at the FBI. He has got the tie on for the interview.

And then we've got Steve Hall, a retired CIA chief of Russia operations.

Welcome to both of you. Thank you so much for talking with us.

I want to start with you, Steve Hall.

How big could this be?

Is this a potential bombshell?

They are looking at whether the President of the United States perhaps was or is a Russian intelligence asset.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, sure, jus by the way you correctly phrase the question, yes, it's a very big deal.

From a counter intelligence perspective, there were always a lot of questions about guys like Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort more recently, a lot of people have been in the news because of the activities they undertook and then they were brought to judgment after investigations.

But there was always a question, oftentimes raised by the White House themselves, saying, well, yes, but was the boss involved?

Did Donald Trump really know about what Paul Manafort was doing or what Michael Flynn might have been doing?

And now from what we have learned from the reporting this evening is that the FBI was very seriously asking that question. And yes, so that, in and of itself, I think is a big deal.

Of course, I'll defer to Steve as for the details as to what the bureau might have been up to. But yes, for me, from a counter intelligence perspective, it's a big deal.

ALLEN: Yes, same question to you, Steve Moore, and then we'll break it down a little more about what led to this. But just your initial thoughts when you heard about this investigation.

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, I agree, anytime you are investigating at any level, the president for possible involvement with foreign power, in and of itself that's an important investigation.


MOORE: I think, however, "The New York Times" was not real clear on how they explained what was going on. This was not a full investigation. This is what was called a preliminary inquiry, which is very limited in scope and can be opened simply on an allegation, which means it can be opened without any evidence at all.

And it has to be closed, if nothing is found within six months. So it's not a criminal investigation as people would think of an FBI investigation.

ALLEN: Let's talk about what led to the investigation. It was apparently the interview that Donald Trump gave NBC about why he fired James Comey. Let's listen to that now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Regardless of recommendations, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.


ALLEN: So that was one of the things. The other thing was a letter that President Trump planned to send to Comey, which he apparently didn't do.

Let's go to you, Steve Moore, to explain, what was it about this investigation and this letter that triggered the FBI?

MOORE: What triggered the FBI I believe is the fact that he repeatedly wanted to get, at least on paper, some type of evidence to support the fact that Comey allegedly told him he wasn't being investigated for involvement with the Russians. And he really wanted this on paper somehow. And I can see why that would lead agents to be concerned.

ALLEN: To you, Stephen Hall, could the president have unwittingly come under Russia's influence?

HALL: Sure. There's always the question, Natalie, as to whenever somebody is associated with or perhaps the question is, was this person in this case, the President of the United States, involved or cooperating with Russia, whether it was witting or unwitting?

And that probably has important legal distinctions. From counter intelligence perspective, though, which is a significantly lower bar than a legal bar, there have a lot of, in my assessment from a counter intelligence perspective, there have been a lot of questionable activities on the part of this president.

We mentioned a couple of them in terms of Russia, what about the 30,000 e-mails, I hope you find them. But if you just look at his performance, for example, in the Oval Office with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, talking about how he just got rid of Comey that night.

That is something that every American official should know, you don't talk about that kind of dirty laundry in front of an adversarial country and its prevents because it allows them to take advantage of you in a counter intelligence way.

So legally there's obviously a lot of thresholds and a lot of hoops that would have to be jumped through before this gets much more serious. But already, there's significant concerning counter intelligence patterns that I think have emerged over the past couple years and they now perhaps they are beginning to culminate and come together.

ALLEN: Yes, and the White House has already issued a statement. It's claiming partisan politics. Here we go again with Comey.

Does that argument on behalf of the White House have any merit to you, Steve Moore?

MOORE: Well, here is the problem with that. And I agree completely with Steve about the counter intelligence aspect of this. The president is acting unwisely in this.

However, when Comey was fired, who was in charge and who could have authorized even something as small as a preliminary inquiry against Donald Trump?

It would have been the acting director, Andrew McCabe and the deputy assistant director in charge of counter intelligence, Strzok. And so what you have are two people who have been compromised, not compromised in the counter intelligence way but the American people have a compromised trust in them because they were both marched out because of political biases, apparently.

So the problem is, you have the fruit of the poisonous tree. People are not going to believe an investigation that is opened by those two guys after their boss got fired. So I think it should rightly go to Mueller because he apparently doesn't have that baggage.

ALLEN: We will continue to watch it. It's a remarkable new development. Steve Moore and Stephen Hall, we thank you both. We appreciate your insights.

HILL: Thanks.

MOORE: Sure.

HOWELL: Now to the partial U.S. government shutdown. It lingers on, still carrying on. Now officially the longest shutdown in U.S. history, three weeks and counting.


HOWELL: And for some 800,000 American workers, it means working without pay. In fact, unemployment claims have skyrocketed 400 percent on furloughed employees.

ALLEN: And the collateral damage is piling up. House Democrats have passed bill after bill to reopen the government and get people back to work. But Senate Republicans ridicule those moves as stunts saying they won't move on anything until President Trump gives the OK. For more, our Jim Acosta is at the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After hinting for days that he may declare a national emergency to force the government to construct his border wall, President Trump admitted there may be cracks in that plan.

A wall of opposition could be looming, Mr. Trump said, in the courts.

TRUMP: If they can't do it, if, at some point, they just can't do it, this is a 15-minute meeting. If they can't do it, I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right to do it.

I will be soon. It'll be brought to the Ninth Circuit and then hopefully we will win in the Supreme Court.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump's hesitation comes as he now presides over what's about to become the nation's longest government shutdown, with 800,000 workers impacted, many going without paychecks this weekend.

TRUMP: They're incredible people, federal employees that we're talking about. Many of them agree with what I'm saying and what the people in this room who are experts are saying. They don't want to see people killed because we can't do a simple border structure.

ACOSTA: Democrats are accusing the president of putting his quest for a wall over the needs of federal employees.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Today is the first day that federal employees are getting these pay stubs with a big zero on them, even though, as their pay stubs say zero, their bills keep coming in. And we have the same question on the Senate floor. Why don't we do what's in our power to reopen the government?

ACOSTA: The president is continuing to hype the situation down on the border.

TRUMP: A lot of people don't like the word invasion. We have a country that's being invaded by criminals and by drugs.

ACOSTA: He tweeted: "The steel barrier or wall should have been built by previous administrations long ago. They never got it done. I will. Without it, our country cannot be safe. Criminals, gangs, human traffickers, drugs and so much other big trouble can easily pour in. It can be stopped cold."

But during his trip down to the border, one law enforcement official told him migrants are already digging tunnels under areas where walls exist.

MELISSA LUCIO, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: This is just a couple of miles from here, from where we're standing. This is a tunnel. This is the second tunnel that recently that we have located. This is an area that we actually have wall.

ACOSTA: The president is being cheered on by fellow Republicans to take matters into his own hands, with Senator Lindsey Graham releasing a statement saying: "Mr. President, declare a national emergency now. Build a wall now."

But when President Obama used an executive action to shield immigrants from deportation, he was blasted by Graham and other GOP leaders.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is wrong, it's irresponsible and will do damage to our efforts to fix a broken immigration system. This is a tremendous presidential overreach.

I will try to defund the effort for him to go it alone. We will challenge him in court.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY.), MAJORITY LEADER: Imposing his will unilaterally may seem tempting, it may serve him politically in the short-term, but he knows it will make an already broken system even more broken. And he knows this is not how democracy is supposed to work.

ACOSTA: Despite a government shutdown that's now hurting American families and potentially damaging the economy, the president was joking Democrats can give him his wall, but call it something else.

TRUMP: They can name it whatever. They can name it peaches. I don't care what they name it. But we need money for that barrier.

ACOSTA: The president didn't say how long he's going to let this grind on or what will prompt him on the border. The president appears to let the shutdown continue until he gets his way. Democrats can call the wall peaches but at this point, parties are treating it like a lemon -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


ALLEN: The negative impact of the shutdown is being felt by millions of Americans. As we mentioned, unemployment claims are skyrocketing by employees who are now not being paid.

HOWELL: Many of these people say they are being unfairly punished through no fault of their own. We get more now from CNN's Scott McLean.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The sign says it pays to live in Ogden -- just not these days. This panoramic former frontier town in Utah is caught in the middle of a partisan battle being waged in Washington. Ogden has one of the highest concentrations of federal workers in the west. Right now, it's hurting.

Whitney Snitchler is one of more than --


MCLEAN: -- 5,000 federal workers affected in Ogden alone. Most worked for the IRS or the Forest Service and most are furloughed but Snitchler is working without pay, no money but still bills to pay a gas tank to fill and two kids to feed.

WHITNEY SNITCHLER, FEDERAL WORKER: I don't think that we should be held captive like our paychecks should be held captive just because it's something that they need to like brawl out.

MCLEAN: With no money on the way, she plans to ask the bank for a loan and likely the food bank for help.

She's hardly alone. Local Catholic pantry says federal workers per day are now relying on its shelves for the first time.

LAURA THOMPSON, FEDERAL WORKER: I've never done this before.

MCLEAN: Laura Thompson is a longtime federal worker who never imagined she would be here.

THOMPSON: I pay my taxes. I do what I'm supposed to do. I shouldn't have to be without a job.

MCLEAN: With her savings already gone, she's registering with the food bank and lining up to the basics -- canned goods, bread and vegetables.

She voted for President Trump but not for this.

THOMPSON: I agree with the wall, but it shouldn't be on us federal workers' backs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not volunteers.

MCLEAN: Adding insult to injury, workers suddenly find themselves without pay in a city that's seen the cost of housing rise 69 percent in just the last five years.

MIKE CALDWELL, OGDEN MAYOR: The federal employees are part of the ecosystem that helps support all of these small business owners and shop workers.

MCLEAN (on camera): It's a ripple effect.

CALDWELL: Correct, absolutely right.

MCLEAN (voice-over): And those ripples are spreading. Ogden's main federal building sits smack in the middle of an historic downtown. It's now almost empty.

At this bookstore, the owner says sales are down by half and this restaurant has cut back its hours. Other restaurants are just scraping by.

Waitress Hollie Clavel has seen her lunchtime tips dropped by two- thirds since the shutdown started 21 days ago.

HOLLIE CLAVEL, WAITRESS: I have to penny pinch. I have to decide, you know, which bills are prioritize, you know, cut out all the extras.

OK, enjoy.

MCLEAN: President Trump has suggested workers are willing to sacrifice their pay to secure the border.

TRUMP: But this really does have a higher purpose than next week's pay.

MCLEAN: Clavel, an immigrant herself, agrees. (on camera): Are you willing to sacrifice personally for it?

CLAVEL: I'm OK for the safety of this country to do what it needs to be done.

MCLEAN (voice-over): That view wasn't shared by furloughed workers protesting the shutdown in Ogden. Many say they're getting desperate.

LYNN STRATTON, FEDERAL WORKER: I have enough for one more mortgage payment and I got to go to CarMax tomorrow and sell my car.

MCLEAN (on camera): You're going to sell your car? STRATTON: I have to.

MCLEAN (voice-over): There's hardly consensus on who to blame for the shutdown, but there is on one thing.

STRATTON: We just want our jobs back and we want them to make it right.

MCLEAN: Now Lynn Stratton said she wasn't able to sell her car. Instead she asked the bank to defer her next mortgage payment, which it did. Stratton is one of the very few federal employees who has found a temporary job; 2,600 others in Utah have applied for unemployment insurance.

The IRS is planning to require a significant portion of the workforce to return to work to process tax refunds. That is actually the worst case scenario for many of these employees because they are not eligible for unemployment because they are working even if their next paychecks are still a long way away -- Scott McLean, CNN, Ogden, Utah.


HOWELL: You know, these reports that some employees have been told to hold a garage sale or something like that or call creditors to say they will be late, that doesn't work. You call the creditor, they're like, OK, you are 30 days late, you're late; 60 days late, you are late.

ALLEN: In about 20 minutes I'll interview one of those furloughed workers and we'll hear her story of how she is trying to survive this time.

HOWELL: The pain is real for these people.

ALLEN: Very much so.

Still ahead here, we have got breaking news, live video coming to you out of Paris. A strong explosion has rocked Central Paris. We'll have the details on this breaking story, coming up.






HOWELL: Welcome back. Following breaking news this hour out of Paris. We have some live images to show you in the French capital, where police say a gas leak at a bakery caused a strong explosion that happened Saturday morning.

ALLEN: An official in Paris tells CNN there were victims but it is unclear how many at this time and the extent of their injuries.

HOWELL: Joining right now, we have our colleague, Cyril Vanier, here.

Cyril, this is your hometown. You can give us the best scenes there of exactly where this is, the neighborhood and what we know so far.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: So this is in the center of Paris, in the Ninth District, a residential neighborhood, narrow streets, which is actually a problem when you have an explosion like this because it means more people might be impacted.

And as we understand it shortly before 9:00 am local time, a bakery experienced some sort of a gas leak. That's the best information we have right now, according to French law enforcement.

It was closed at the time because it does most of its business during the week. This is Saturday morning. The bakery, I believe, is what you are seeing on the street corner, the shot we just saw. There was a gas leak, an explosion.

We just heard from somebody who lives in the neighborhood, who spoke to our CNN affiliate in France, BFM TV, they were evacuated but the firemen were already on the scene most likely to handle that fire at the time that there was that explosion.

ALLEN: When you look at this video, it looks like it was massive.


ALLEN: You can tell there are other buildings connected to that building that look blackened as well.


VANIER: Yes, so the windows have been blown out over several buildings. That already tells you the danger to the number of people that may have been affected because --


VANIER: -- shortly before 9:00 am local time, city center in Paris, you would have people are in their homes. So you can expect people to be injured. We don't have any specific information on that. But we know stretchers were carried into the perimeter.

I would expect that's what law enforcement and first responders are doing right now, going door-to-door, through those buildings, finding out who needs help and how many people were injured. I would be stunned if there were no injuries out of this.

HOWELL: Give us a sense of the timing, exactly when this happened and how many people would have been out and about.

VANIER: Yes, that's a very relevant question. Saturday morning, in a residential neighborhood in Paris, means people are walking out of their houses, buying bread in the bakery. That's a typical thing you do on Saturday morning, absolutely, a staple of French life or doing your morning grocery shopping. That tends to be the tradition.

So you would have had a lot of people, either indoors or just starting to come out and mill around that neighborhood, which, again, is a very residential neighborhood. So you don't have the benefit of this being a set of office buildings, which would have been empty at that point and time, that day of the week. On the contrary, it would have been full of people.

HOWELL: Again, we are looking at these images. A big explosion, officials say is caused by a gas leak.


ALLEN: Again, our reporter, Melissa Bell, is on her way to the scene. As soon as she arrives, we'll have live coverage for our viewers. Again, this is caused by a gas explosion in Paris.

Cyril, thank you.

HOWELL: Thank you, Cyril.

ALLEN: Well, 800,000 federal workers, the government shutdown is a nightmare. Coming up here, my conversation with a woman who works for the Smithsonian and how the shutdown has upended her life.





ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.


ALLEN: Joining me now is Whitney Brown, she's a curator at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. She is a contract federal worker, now on furlough.

Whitney, thanks so much for talking with us.

WHITNEY BROWN, CONTRACT FEDERAL WORKER: You're welcome, Natalie, nice to be here.

ALLEN: Nice to have you with us.

First of all, I want to ask you straight up, how are you doing?

How are you feeling right now? BROWN: Honestly, I'm tired. It's indescribably tired to be in limbo and try to figure out how to juggle finances, credit cards versus cash, how much cash am I going to have to have on hand to pay my mortgage and my neighbor who brings firewood, who doesn't take credit cards. I don't know if I'm going back to work next Wednesday or in March or in 2020. So it's just anybody's guess and that's pretty stressful --


ALLEN: Yes, the limbo, we can really appreciate that. So many people in this country work paycheck-to-paycheck or have so many obligations, so trying to decide, who, what, where, when while you're being furloughed has to be very taxing.

I know you are a contract federal worker.

Does that mean even when the government opens, you will necessarily have a job when you come back?

And are you assured to have back pay if you get your job back?

BROWN: My understanding is there won't be back pay. I don't have that from the Smithsonian, who holds my contract. I don't have any information from them yet. There's no one I can ask at this point. Most of the people who I have contact with are federal workers who are on furlough.

My contract was up for renewal on December 31st. And I believe that paperwork was put in. I don't know now if there will be a delay in processing that when we reopen. I have very little information. We just have been told not to check our email but to watch the news and our bosses will be in touch when they could be.

ALLEN: That's not anywhere comforting, is it?

BROWN: I don't hold my direct supervisors responsible for this, they have all been wonderful.

ALLEN: What are people saying to you?

I have been reading stories on #shutdownstories, people talking about this. Some people saying, well, just go get another job, you just need to do something. Easier said than done when you have a job and you are just waiting for one decision by the U.S. government to get you back working.

BROWN: Exactly. Gosh. It's very frustrating. I'm sort of seeing the best and the worst of humanity right now. I have a lot of friends and family who have reached out without my having solicited just to say we have money saved up, please let us know if you need help. We are very sorry for this. We know it's not your fault.

And also someone who participates in Twitter. So having shared the fact that I have now been shut out of my job for an undetermined -- indeterminate amount of time, I've filed for unemployment because I just don't have endless savings to pay my mortgage. I'll be able to eat and thing like that but you have got bills to pay.

So other people then, if you share that sentiment, just what's going on in your own life, I have been attacked by people, who said, why don't you have more money saved and why don't you just get a job delivering pizza?

Well, I have a million reasons for that. Everybody's story is different and complex. But I also live in a very rural area. I don't live in Washington. I go to Washington when I need to be there for work.


BROWN: So this is not an easy place to get a job any day of the year, let alone now.

ALLEN: How long are you prepared?

Are you thinking beyond a day or two or week or how long you are able to hang on?

BROWN: I think when the initial news broke, I expected it might be three or four weeks. But it's difficult to guess now because unfortunately this is not a president who is very predictable in terms of historic presidential norms.

My understanding is, after today, we are now in the longest shutdown in U.S. history for the federal government and I don't feel very hopeful. There's not a lot of signs for hope, despite the fact people on both sides of the aisle in Congress have said, can't we have this discussion about the border wall after we get the government reopened?

I'm lucky I have family to fall back on. I don't actually have dependents I worry about supporting. So I'm not really a super sad case compared to some of what I have read. But it's not easy. My credit will probably take a hit result of this. Who knows what else.

ALLEN: Do you blame one party over the other or the president?

Are you even going there with this situation or are you trying to stay away from that?

BROWN: I have a lot of very heated opinions that I have shared with family and friends. I'll say that I don't -- I mostly feel the president is responsible for this. And I also hold Mitch McConnell responsible for refusing to even have a vote in the Senate unless he knows that Trump won't veto it.

This is not a thing they pursued when the Republicans had a majority in the House and I don't know why it's become such a hot button issue now. But I'm very angry about being a political pawn. And I think it just shows how out of touch they are with working Americans. They don't seem concerned at all for anybody's welfare. And it's hard.

ALLEN: We are all thinking about you, really appreciate your time and coming on to talk to us about this, Whitney. Whitney Brown, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution.

Thank you, Whitney. We wish you all the best.

BROWN: Thank you, Natalie.

HOWELL: Now the Republican congressman from Iowa, Steve King, feeling the burn after making racist comments, with many colleagues condemning his apparent support of white nationalism. It all started after King spoke to "The New York Times" and had this to say.

"White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization - how did that language become offensive?

"Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"

White nationalism and white supremacy, King asks, why is that offensive?


Those comments prompted Democrats to consider a motion to formally censure King. But the congressman himself took to the floor of Congress to head off that effort and insisted he is not a racist. Let's listen.


REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: Under any fair political definition, I am simply an American nationalist. I regret the heartburn that has poured forth upon this Congress in this country and especially in my state and in my congressional district. The people who know me know I wouldn't have to make this statement because they do know me.


HOWELL: Those are King's comments on Friday. King's past can't be ignored. He has a long history of controversial comments and actions, comments like these.


KING: For everyone who is a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that they weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.

We have growing elements in America that want to destroy Western civilization. This argument that diversity is our strength, I just wonder if anybody ever questions that.


HOWELL: Questioning whether diversity is our strength?

King tells CNN, he isn't worried about the fallout over his latest comments, his statements. However, a senior Republican aide says congressman King's latest comments are a, quote, "tipping point."

Whether his party will take action is still not clear but one of King's colleagues is speaking out , the only black Republican senator, Tim Scott of South Carolina, had this to say in an op-ed in "The Washington Post."

"When people with opinions similar to King's open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but our nation as a whole. Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism. It's because of our silence when things like this are said," end quote.

Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan says he is considering a formal resolution that censures Steve King for his history of racially insensitive comments and remarks.

ALLEN: Coming up here, a 13-year-old girl escapes to freedom.





HOWELL: We continue to follow the breaking news out of Paris, France, where police say a gas leak at a bakery caused a major explosion. It happened Saturday morning. Our Melissa Bell is now live in Paris following the latest on the story.

Melissa, what are you learning from authorities there?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we have heard is we have the confirmation from police this was, indeed, a gas explosion. We have been hearing more from eyewitnesses. You can see behind me, emergency services are even now trying to get that fire under control, a fire caused by an explosion in that bakery.

What we have heard from eyewitnesses is about an hour before that explosion took place, the firemen had been out here, a team of about eight people, coming to inspect the street. The eyewitness we spoke to couldn't confirm why they had come.

It was an hour after they left the explosion took place. So powerful, said the man working the hotel immediately opposite of the bakery, that windows were smashed and he himself was propelled by the force of it.

Now we don't have any official word yet on casualties, the number of those injured. But according to eyewitnesses here, there were a number of people who were injured, some of them sustaining what sounded like pretty substantial injuries.

HOWELL: Melissa, for our viewers around the world, set the scene here. If we can show the map of exactly where this is taking place. Melissa, if you could explain the timing as well, how many people might have been out and about on the streets in this neighborhood.

BELL: This is the heart of Paris, the Ninth District, a very busy party of town. There are restaurants, bars, often people milling around. It is also residential. These are flats in the street, a lot of people live here.

And about 9:00 am this morning, there would have been people milling around the street, people going out to buy their bread and to have morning coffee. Given the strength of this explosion and what we have heard, this would have been --


BELL: -- fairly chaotic. We heard the blast was such the windows were blown out in a number of the buildings surrounding the one in which the explosion took place.

The authorities have confirmed it was a gas leak. That is what they have confirmed to CNN. Of course, when it first took place, you can imagine the chaos and panic amongst people who did not know what caused this explosion.

Given the size, really, even if it was not, as the authorities told us, not terror related, you can imagine the scenes in what was a very busy part of town, a busy street. People close by would have heard and some witnessed the damage.

Even now, smoke continues to billow out. It was a pretty bad fire that followed the explosion and emergency services still trying to put that out.

Of course this comes as Paris, you know, on Saturdays, is really gridlock, waiting to see what will emerge from the Yellow Vest protests. There are tens of thousands of police men and women on the streets of France to keep an eye on the situation and keep it under control.

So there would have been a lot of questions when this first took place. We now understand from authorities it was a gas leak and not terror related.

HOWELL: That city rocked by so many different terror related incidents. In the early moments of this explosion, on the minds of many people. But authorities saying it was caused by a gas leak. We'll continue to stay in touch with you.

Also Melissa pointing out the Yellow Vest protests are taking place. We continue to follow that on CNN. Melissa, thank you for the reporting.

ALLEN: Now to a story many people here in the United States are following, brave and courageous. That's how police describe a 13- year-old girl in Wisconsin. She escaped captivity after three months.

HOWELL: Jayme Closs went missing in October the day her parents were murdered. She led police right to her suspected kidnapper. Our Jean Casarez has more on the story.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 88 days, 13- year-old Jayme Closs alive after escaping captivity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The suspect had specific intentions to kidnap Jayme and went to great lengths to prepare to take her.

CASAREZ: Jayme identified the man she says kidnapped her and killed her parents three months ago, 21-year-old Jake Patterson. He has been charged with two counts of murder and one count of kidnapping. But police are still searching for why.

CNN has not been able to reach Patterson or confirm whether he has an attorney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing in this case shows the suspect knew anyone at the Closs home or at any time had contact with anyone in the Closs family.

CASAREZ: Police say Patterson worked in the same plant as her parents for a day or two but didn't know them. On Thursday, police say Jayme escaped the home where she was held while her kidnapper was away and approached a woman walking her dog in Gordon, Wisconsin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said I'm lost and I don't know where I am and I need help.

CASAREZ: The middle school student says she was being held in a cabin in a remote area about 65 miles north of her hometown Barron.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I first saw her, did she run away, did somebody dump her off here, because she didn't have coats or gloves and then when he told me who she was I figured she must have left in a hurry.

CASAREZ: Patterson doesn't have a criminal record in Wisconsin and investigators believe he carefully planned the kidnapping on his own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Things like not leaving trace evidence by changing his physical appearance, like shaving his head not to leave hair behind.

CASAREZ: Neighbors kept her safe until police arrived and arrested Patterson minutes later, pulling over his car based on Jayme's description.

Jayme has been released from the hospital and has been reunited with her family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She looked really tired, like she's been fighting a battle for weeks.

CASAREZ: The FBI and local authorities have been searching for Jayme since mid-October. That is when police discovered the bodies of James and Denise Closs. The sheriff's office responded to a 9-1-1 call from their phone. No one spoke but the dispatcher heard yelling in the background.

Police believe Jayme was in the house when her parents were murdered. They recovered a shotgun similar to the ones used in the murders at the home where Jayme allegedly was being held.

We are very close to that home, 30-40 local state and federal law enforcement officers have been executing a search warrant. The initial appearance in court will be Monday.

The looming question remains, how was Jayme Closs found?

Why was she targeted?

How did the suspect find his way to her parent's home? -- Jean Casarez, CNN --


CASAREZ: -- Gordon, Wisconsin.


ALLEN: What that young woman has been through.

In the United States, a major snowstorm is creating big problems and it's going to stick around for the weekend. Derek Van Dam will join us next.





ALLEN: Seeing here that it's definitely January. A major snowstorm bearing down on the central U.S. in Missouri. The state highway patrol warns people, stay home and off the road this weekend as conditions become even more dangerous.

HOWELL: That is a lot of snow. (WEATHER REPORT)


ALLEN: The top stories are just ahead. Thanks for watching this hour, I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: I'm George Howell. Another hour of news after the break, stay with us.