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A Number of Fatalities, Many Injured in Tornadoes; Nadler to Seek Documents From Over 60 People in Trump's Circle; Trump's National Emergency Faces Another Senate Opposition; Bolton: "No Deal is Better Than Bad Deal." Aired 7-8p ET
Aired March 3, 2019 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:56] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York with our breaking news.
At least a dozen tornadoes reported across Alabama and Georgia. Look at this. This is in Lee County, Alabama right now. You can see people just taking in all of the damage there, houses torn apart.
We're learning at least two separate tornadoes hit within one hour. Initial reports were at least two people dead. The Sheriff there now saying there are a number of fatalities and many more people still unaccounted for.
Let's get right over to CNN meteorologist Tom Sater in the CNN Weather Center. Tom, fill us in on what is the latest, where is this storm headed, and what threat still remains.
TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Ana, it looks like, obviously, March is coming in like a roaring lion.
This storm, just yesterday, entered the country in California. It's moving extremely fast. We knew we would have severe weather to the South, but the outbreak of tornadoes is much more than we bargained for. And then you've got your blizzard conditions up to the North. More on this in a moment.
Earlier today, when thousands were in Montgomery, Alabama, we saw a line starting to develop. And the good news is that it held off for all of those that were outdoor in the elements. But just from around Tuskegee, Alabama, over toward Columbus, Georgia, to Macon is where we've seen the most violent weather.
I bet you we've seen probably three dozen tornado warnings. They will still be in effect and are in effect in some locations from the panhandle of Florida into Georgia and South Carolina.
To break this down for you, we still have a watch in effect for Georgia and South Carolina until 11:00 p.m. But here are a few warnings right now just to the northeast of Panama City. We've got another at the south of Albany. But this line, as it moved through in the same region, developed not one but two different cells that dropped the tornadoes. Columbia, South Carolina, you've got a tornado warning just now to
your west moving toward you. Between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., two thunderstorm cells moved from Tuskegee to Columbus, and that's where we believe produced this wedge tornado.
Wedge tornadoes have an extremely wide base so they can do much more damage. So that's why the first responders there are still considering this a search and rescue operation. They have no idea just how much damage and how widespread it is in the region.
When these storms move through -- and we'll take you in a little bit closer -- there is Beauregard, Tuskegee, and Columbus. So it's kind of hard to see but you had not only one and the two that moved through. Now that we're losing the daylight, which is good news, we should start to see these storms die down to the South, but we'll continue to have them for a few more hours.
To the North now. In Washington, D.C., you're right on the rain/snow line that's historical for you. But to the North -- get ready, Ana -- New York City under a warning. Boston, too. A good five to eight inches by tomorrow morning in New York, possibly eight to 10 in Boston.
We will see some areas with over a foot, so a lot of travel problems to the North tomorrow. But, unfortunately, severe weather continues to the South this evening.
CABRERA: All right. Tom Sater, thank you. We'll, of course, come back to you when you have additional updates on this severe weather. We're also working to get in touch with people who are in that storm zone and who have witnessed what has already come through. Thanks again.
Turning now to Capitol Hill where one of the most powerful members of Congress, the head of the House Judiciary Committee, said today he believes President Trump committed a federal crime.
New York Democrat Jerry Nadler says his Committee will, in just a few hours, start collecting material to present a case of obstruction of justice, corruption, and abuse of power against the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Do you think the President obstructed justice?
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: Yes, I do. It's very clear that the President obstructed justice. It's very clear -- 1,100 times, he referred to the Mueller investigation as a witch-hunt.
He tried to -- he fired -- he tried to protect Flynn from being investigated by the FBI. He fired Comey in order to stop the Russian thing, as he told NBC News. He's dangled -- he's threatened -- he's intimidated witnesses in public.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Nadler says his Committee will demand documents from -- get this -- more than 60 people and entities from the White House, the Justice Department, the President's son, and officials from Trump's business empire.
[19:05:06] The legal process is on the President's mind today, as well. He tweeted this earlier today -- I am an innocent man being persecuted by some very bad, conflicted, and corrupt people in a witch-hunt that is illegal and should never have been allowed to start.
Let's get right over to CNN's White House reporter Boris Sanchez. Boris, these comments from Congressman Nadler not the only presidential headache for the President today. You have some new info about the national emergency declaration now facing headwinds in the Senate.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. Over the weekend, Rand Paul was speaking to a group of Republicans in Kentucky, and he revealed that he would be voting in favor of a motion of disapproval against the President's national emergency declaration, essentially trying to block the declaration.
Rand Paul becomes the fourth Republican senator to vow that they would vote in this way. He joins Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Thom Tillis.
Ultimately, Rand Paul said that he didn't want to give the President unconstitutional powers, effectively saying that he didn't want to empower a future potential Democratic administration to cite President Trump's move as precedent in declaring a national emergency on an issue that Republicans may not necessarily favor.
Clearly, this is a symbolic gesture because President Trump has vowed that he would veto any such measure, and neither party has a veto- proof majority in Congress to try to override the President.
Still, it is notable because Republicans, both privately and publicly, have asked the President not to take this step, but he ultimately decided to do it anyway. This being one of the main promises of his 2016 campaign in building that wall, Ana.
CABRERA: Boris Sanchez, at the White House, thank you.
Joining us now, CNN senior political analyst, and former adviser to four presidents, David Gergen and CNN contributor Garrett Graff. He's the author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and The War on Global Terror."
David, you heard what Nadler said at the top of the hour. It's very clear Trump has obstructed justice, he said. And yet he and another member of the Judiciary Committee who I spoke to this evening, Eric Swalwell, say they're not ready to talk impeachment. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: But I'm hearing you say you're not there yet.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: No, not there yet. And, again, we're not going to give Donald Trump "Donald Trump justice" because if we gave him Donald Trump justice, he'd be impeached now. We actually are going to follow the rule of law that he throws aside so often.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: David, where do you see this going from here?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think we're definitely moving into a new phase in the investigations. As the Mueller investigation winds down and we await a report that may or may not be dramatic, the Democrats are now preparing to pounce in the House with a series of investigations to explore, quote, the underlying evidence.
There are six different House Committees now, Ana, that are preparing to investigate, and they -- what they want to do is essentially do what Michael Cohen did. And that was, present to the public a portrait of what's been going on under this president, both in his business and in his campaign, as well as in his presidency, and let the public then decide whether he needs -- some punishment needs to be meted out.
And it may well be that's really directed at the 2020 elections, to prepare the people to vote against Trump in 2020. But I don't think there's any question we're moving into a new phase.
CABRERA: Garrett, Nadler is casting quite the wide net. We've mentioned he's asking for documents from more than 60 people and entities in Trump's circle, including his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr. John Kelly, his former Chief of Staff, and Don McGahn, former White House Counsel, could also be asked for documents. How ugly is this going to get?
GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we don't know what they're going to find is part of the answer.
But, remember, I think one of the important step-backs here to take is to remind everyone that, actually, congressional oversight is an incredibly important part of the checks and balances as the founders laid them out and that the anomaly, really, is that the Republicans, for the last two years, were not interested in asking any questions about any of this.
It's not that this is necessarily the launch of some sort of crazy partisan witch-hunt by the House Judiciary Committee and the other five committees that David just mentioned. This is a normal, and something that we as citizens should appreciate, step of the legislative body, sort of stepping in and saying, is the President acting within his authority and making the correct decisions for the correct reasons?
And that is something that we have become somewhat inured to over the last two years, is that this is -- we just sort of let Trump go out and be Trump on a daily basis without really digging into the fact that, you know, he is, by all accounts and by all appearances, intimidating witnesses and tampering with witnesses and obstructing justice in plain view on Twitter. In a way that if he was sort of leaving horse heads in people's beds, we would be very concerned about. But the fact that he is sort of just telling people on Twitter to do this or not do that is something that we sort of try to pretend isn't really a crime.
[19:10:26] CABRERA: He is tweeting. He is speaking about the investigations this weekend. He was at CPAC yesterday, David, after a doozy of a week. He couldn't close the deal with Kim Jong-un.
GERGEN: Doozy of a speech.
CABRERA: His former confidante called him a liar and a cheat. Doozy, a technical term I used there. But here he is yesterday hugging a flag as he walked on stage, just before he delivered the longest speech of his presidency, two-plus hours. It included comments like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unfortunately, you put the wrong people in a couple of positions, and they leave people for a long time that shouldn't be there. And all of a sudden, they're trying to take you out with (INAUDIBLE), OK? With (INAUDIBLE).
TRUMP: Robert Mueller never received a vote and neither did the person that appointed him. And as you know, the Attorney General says, I'm going to recuse myself. I'm going to recuse.
TRUMP: And I said, why the hell didn't he tell me that before I put him in? If you tell a joke, if you're sarcastic, if you're having fun with the audience, if you're on live television with millions of people and 25,000 people in an arena and if you say something like, Russia, please, if you can, get us Hillary Clinton's e-mails! Please, Russia! Please!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: David, when you watch that or you hear that, do you see the candidate who was impervious to scandal, or do you see someone who is now really feeling the walls close in?
GERGEN: I think it's a man who's seeing the walls close in. But I do think underlying that is a view that, on his part, that maybe he will get through the Mueller investigation with a reasonably clean bill of health. Nobody knows for sure yet.
But I do want to go back to this select committee just for a second, Ana. Listen, select committees have played an important role in investigations in the past, especially in Watergate.
Sam Ervin -- Senator Sam Ervin headed up with Howard Baker, the Republican, a critical committee exploring, just what Nadler is doing in the judiciary, to what happened with the Nixon White House. And it was that investigation, the Ervin committee -- not the Special Counselor but the Ervin committee uncovered the phone tapping and that led to the tapes, which led to his resignation.
So these committees have a long history. I think that, for the Democrats, the challenge is not to overplay their hands. You know, they're going to be a lot of people in this country who'll say, listen, if Mueller, after all this time, didn't find anything, why the hell are we going to have more and more and more investigations? Aren't you just trying to --
GERGEN: Isn't this just a fishing expedition? I think they have to be very careful to lay out a persuasive case of why they're taking -- undertaking each one of these investigations.
CABRERA: Garrett, the other big headline today was what Boris alluded to. We heard from him, as he reported it out, the Senate likely now has enough votes to block Trump's national emergency declaration or to disapprove of it after Rand Paul joined three other Republicans in voicing his disapproval.
Just the idea that Republicans are now challenging the extent of Trump's authority, how significant is that?
GERGEN: Go ahead, please.
GRAFF: It's a tiny step. I don't know that it marks a watershed change, but it is something that is at least consistent with the way that many Republicans have viewed these uses of executive authority in the past.
Again, what's strange is not that you have four Republicans considering voting for it. It's that you still have the rest of the Republican Senate not choosing to vote against this national emergency. Which you can certainly imagine, if President Obama had been out there declaring this national emergency using the exact same justification for the exact same cause, you would have --
CABRERA: Yes, every Republican would be all over that.
GRAFF: Every Republican would be out there opposing it.
CABRERA: David, there's this new polling from the NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, and I want to show you a couple of the interesting takeaways.
Here we have four in 10 voters, only four in 10, say they will definitely or probably re-elect President Trump next year. That's much less than what we saw at Obama's presidency at this stage in the game. But it wasn't all bad news for this president. That same poll finds,
despite, you know, all these people who don't like the national emergency declaration, he's holding steady with 88 percent of Republican support. Is that a warning sign for Democrats?
[19:15:09] GERGEN: It's a sign that the Democrats cannot be complacent about winning the 2020 elections. If he's at 40 percent now and the Democrats nominate somebody who is seen as way out of the mainstream and start losing -- independents start peeling away, this president could still pull it out.
You know, he goes into this election, so far, as the underdog. But that could change and we should not underestimate his capacity. He is a better campaigner than he is, frankly, at governing, and he's pretty effective at it.
Whether he will have exhausted everybody by then and people will say, oh, my god, I can't believe we're going to get him again and they'll come out in great droves, we don't know yet. But the 40 percent ready to vote for him again is a warning sign to Democrats. Don't take this for granted.
CABRERA: All right, Garrett Graff, David Gergen, I've got to leave it there, guys, tonight.
CABRERA: Thank you.
GERGEN: Thank you.
CABRERA: Always nice to see you.
Just ahead, we have more on our breaking news, the dangerous storm striking the Southeast. At least a dozen tornadoes have hit. And a coroner is confirming at least two people are dead. We'll get more details from people who are assessing the damage live to the storm zone just right after this.
[19:21:22] CABRERA: We're staying on top of this breaking news, deadly tornadoes touching down in Alabama. At least two people have been killed, multiple people injured.
Joining us now on the phone, National Weather Service meteorologist John De Block. And, John, I know you are in Alabama. We're getting reports of people being pulled out of the rubble. What kind of damage are you seeing?
JOHN DE BLOCK, WARNING COORDINATION METEOROLOGIST, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE (via telephone): We have some very major damage across the southern portions of Lee County. A very significant, possibly a violent tornado went across that area.
CABRERA: How many tornadoes in all, do you know, that hit Alabama? DE BLOCK (via telephone): We're looking at five tracks across our
area right now, but, by far, the most significant track was across that Macon County/Lee County line. We're looking at possibly at least an EF3 tornado, perhaps stronger. We're going to find out when we get down and do an onsite storm survey tomorrow.
CABRERA: And I know there are teams heading that direction. If you think it's at least an EF3, what kind of damage are you expecting?
DE BLOCK (via telephone): Unfortunately, there were homes that were completely destroyed, trees that were snapped off. We have seen some indication of debarking of trees, which is really a signal of a violent tornado.
One of the things that was most impressive about this storm was the debris signature that we saw. The radar can actually detect objects other than rainfall. And based on that debris that we saw, one of the most strongest debris signatures we have seen, we issued an actual tornado emergency, which is issued very rarely by the National Weather Service.
CABRERA: Do you know how much warning people had ahead of these tornadoes?
DE BLOCK (via telephone): We issued the warning a few minutes before 2:00, and it looks like, within five to eight minutes, the tornado first touched down. And then it continued all the way across Lee County to the Alabama/Georgia state line.
CABRERA: We're told the National Weather Service is now sending three survey teams to this area. What does the work entail once you're on the ground?
DE BLOCK (via telephone): Well, we want to, first, establish where the tornado first touched down. Then we'll determine the path length and width. And we're going to look for the most significant damage in that track to determine the maximum strength of the tornado as it went through the area.
CABRERA: All right, we'll -- and at this point, is there still a threat out there?
DE BLOCK (via telephone): No, the threat has passed, fortunately. Right now, I understand there's a -- search and rescue is continuing, ongoing, at this point in time. And certainly, our hearts and thoughts go out to the folks across that area affected by this devastating storm.
CABRERA: No doubt about it. John De Block, really appreciate it. We're going to stay on top of the latest information out of the southeast. We continue bringing those live pictures of just total devastation and destruction.
We understand at least multiple people are injured. Again, at least two people confirmed dead. More possibly as they're working through the rubble, pulling people out who are alive. Just ahead, I'll talk with another official who is part of the active
recovery on the scene, who says he would not be surprised if the fatalities go into the double digits. Stay with us. You're watching CNN.
[19:24:27] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CABRERA: CNN's Jake Tapper today pressing National Security adviser John Bolton on President Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. That summit ended without an agreement, but Bolton today calling it a, quote, success, insisting no deal is better than a bad deal.
The topic then shifting to American student Otto Warmbier. He spent 17 months detained in North Korea and died days after returning to the U.S. Jake asked Bolton if he agrees with the President who says he took Kim Jong-un at his word that he did not have any involvement in or knew about Warmbier's mistreatment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Look, the President made it very clear, he considers what happened to Otto Warmbier an act of brutality that's completely unacceptable to the American side.
I've heard him before the summit itself, before the press conference, talk about how deeply he cared about Otto Warmbier and his family. The fact is, the best thing North Korea could do right now would be to give us a full accounting of what happened and who was responsible for it.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you take Kim Jong-un at his word?
BOLTON: The President takes him at his word. That's what's --
TAPPER: No, I know he does, but what about you?
[19:30:05] BOLTON: My opinion doesn't matter. My opinion is that I'm the national --
TAPPER: You're the national security adviser to the President.
BOLTON: Right, I'm not --
TAPPER: Your opinion matters quite a bit.
BOLTON: I'm not the national security decision maker. That is his view.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Samantha Vinograd is the former advisor to the national Security Council advisor during the Obama administration and a CNN national security analyst.
Sam, John Bolton says his opinion here doesn't matter. In your experience, is that the case?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Ana, I just want to start with the fact that we had a major policy announcement from ambassador Bolton today. He said that Kim Jong-un should investigate Otto Warmbier's death. That's on the heels of the administration saying that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia should investigate Jamal Khashoggi's death.
This administration is embracing a policy of letting murderers investigate their own crimes, despite the fact our intelligence community is On the Record about how North Korea works and that it's a top-down system and that Mohammed bin Salman murdered Jamal Khashoggi. We are condemning more murders going forward because we are not holding Kim Jong-un accountable or MBS accountable for what happened.
Now, I have worked for two national security advisers. I studied the approaches of others. The NSAs use their jobs differently. Their job is really to coordinate policy and to drive recommendations to the President, some do this in an unbiased way and some provide their opinions. I have seen it go both ways, actually.
John Bolton today, however, did provide an opinion. He said in various interviews that North Korea is led by Kim Jong-un who is an authoritative leader. Based upon that, it is just logical to assume that as an authoritative leader, Kim Jong-un knows what's happening in his own country and is probably directing the treatment of a high- value asset like Otto Warmbier.
CABRERA: Here's what the President is tweeting about North Korea today, especially after we learned that the typical exercises that happen between the U.S. and South Korea are going to be scaled way back. He writes, the reason I do not want military drills with South Korea is to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S. also reducing tensions with North Korea at this time is a good thing.
Sam, what does this mean in terms of next steps with Kim Jong-un?
VINOGRAD: Well, Ana, since when did saving money and saving face become more important than saving American lives? These joint military exercises are certainly expensive. But part of their purpose was to make sure that our forces were ready to defend against the North Korean threat.
We know that the North Korean threat is increasing. They have greater capabilities and we are saying that we are going to allow our force readiness to decrease. That gives North Korea a massive advantage militarily, and a concession. This is something they want.
Now, whenever we used to travel with President Obama, we do post ops in the situation room afterward. The national security adviser would lead those discussions. The ambassador Bolton is doing that right now. There are probably two key things he is trying to tee up to the President. In the first instance, what is our goal? The intelligence community
said North Korea won't denuclearize. Kim essentially didn't take steps or put that on the table in Hanoi. What are we really after at this point, based upon everything that's happened? And then how are we going to get there? It's clear that the President is willing to give Kim Jong-un a degree of strategic patience to let this play out. But when is enough enough? We can either accept North Korea as a nuclear power or really start throwing some sticks into our basket of carrots to try to get Kim Jong-un to change his approach.
CABRERA: I want to also ask about Jared Kushner's security clearance. Because there is this "New York Times" report that came out that essentially says, Trump ordered Kushner to have a security clearance against the advice of the intelligence community.
You wrote about the actual impacts of what you called the Kushner risk factor.
VINOGRAD: This reporting, I think, is going to cause major risk for U.S. national security going forward. We depend on a lot of intelligence from foreign partners, particularly in places where we don't have great access. At this point, everyone around the world knows that intelligence experts didn't think that Jared Kushner could be trusted with top-secret information. They didn't think he was responsible enough to handle it. Their foreign intelligence partner, and you are trying to figure out whether you should send intelligence to the United States, probably are worried it could end up in Jared Kushner's hands and he is not responsible enough to handle it.
But Jared Kushner, remember, is not just reading intelligence. He's representing the United States in very high-level discussions on issues like Middle East peace, China and other issues. If you are a foreign counterpart and you are sitting across the table from Jared Kushner, it is unclear whether he can be trusted with the information you are just talking to him about based upon the conflicts of interest that the intelligence community identified.
So if intelligent partners share less and foreign counterparts censor what they are saying, we are really missing out on national security inputs.
CABRERA: All right. Sam Vinograd, always good to have you. Thank you for being here.
VINOGRAD: Thanks, Ana.
CABRERA: Back to our breaking news out of Alabama. We are just learning right now after multiple tornadoes touched down, at least 14 people are now confirmed dead. And you can just see a breath taking path of destruction in these images we're getting from our affiliates.
Joining us now is the coroner of Lee County, Alabama, Bill Harris.
And Bill, first, condolences to you, your community, for this devastation that you are experiencing. You think, I understand, there's a good chance this death toll is still going to rise. Why? [19:35:15] BILL HARRIS, CORONER, LEE COUNTY, ALABAMA (via phone): I
think it could. My understanding -- I'm about a mile from where both the destruction has taken place, and it's my understanding they still have not been able to get to parts of that area as they are going through the houses and rubble, looking for people.
CABRERA: That is gut-wrenching to hear. Walk me through what happened when this tornado ripped through.
HARRIS: It was in a rural area, south of Opa-Locka (ph), Alabama, came on pretty sudden. Had fair warning, and it just hit with a vengeance. And it just destroyed a very large area. And I don't even know how many people were injured. But just multiple, multiple injuries. In fact, they are still pulling injured people out every now and then and transporting them for treatment to the hospital.
CABRERA: And what are you seeing?
HARRIS: I'm not at the scene where all of the destruction is, but I have gotten reports from the people that are out there. My deputy coroners that are retrieving the decedents. And he said that it just total destruction.
CABRERA: Coroner, stay with me. I still want to come bring in as well Lee County sheriff, Jay Jones.
I know, sheriff, you are at the scene. Walk me through what you have observed and the current state of play, the situation on the ground right now.
JAY JONES, SHERIFF, LEE COUNTY, ALABAMA (via phone): We have a pretty significant area of damage. It's located about six miles south of the city of Opa-Locka, southern portion of Lee County. North of U.S. highway 80. I would -- possibly as much as a half mile wide trail of destruction and traveling several miles to the east when the storm touched down. We have multiple residences that have been completely destroyed. And it appears at this time that we have 14 confirmed fatalities.
CABRERA: And are you still pulling people out of the rubble, are first responders still looking through the debris?
JONES: A priority, of course, is search and rescue at this time. That's been continuing since the moment the storm passed. We are continuing with those efforts now. We were hampered, of course, by darkness at this point in time. But we do have some canine teams that are coming into the area.
Again, darkness is a factor. And, of course, the significance of the debris and the damage also is hampering efforts. But we are making efforts.
CABRERA: In terms of the injuries, what can you tell us about those?
JONES: We had several injuries. I do not have an exact number. But I do know there were several individuals transported to our regional medical center in Opa-Locka. The treatment and some of those injuries were significant.
CABRERA: You mentioned darkness. We can see in some of the pictures we have seen now on the ground, there's a lot of debris everywhere. What is the biggest challenge?
JONES: The challenge is just the sheer amount of damage and debris that's all through the areas where the homes were located. It literally tore these residences completely apart. And, of course, it's a hazardous area, as you might imagine. And that's, of course, something that the search and rescue personnel are having to contend with, as in any situation like this. But, again, they are continuing those efforts, and they are going to go as long as we can this evening.
CABRERA: When you tell us that at least 14 people are dead in this tornado, can you tell us any more about these victims? Are children among the dead?
JONES: There are some juveniles involved in the fatality situation. Adults, as well. I do not have a breakdown of that. But unfortunately, we do have some younger people involved.
CABRERA: Sad to hear that. How does this damage that you are seeing there compare to other storms that may have hit Alabama in the past?
JONES: This is the most significant damage from a storm that I have seen in Lee County in many, many years. I'm sure it would match up with what we have seen in some other areas in Alabama in the last few years. This is not an urban area. It is a rural area, of course. But as far as the damage, what I'm seeing, it's the most I have seen in -- that I can recall.
CABRERA: You are holding it together in such a good way, which I know you have to in part because of the role that you have for the community there. But what's going through your mind right now?
JONES: Just all these people that have lost their loved ones, of course. We pray for these families. They are going to have a tough time ahead. The others that have lost everything they have and are homeless at this point, literally. We are certainly going to do everything we can to get the resources to them, to help them. This is something -- this community pulls together. This area is -- we had volunteers coming from everywhere earlier this afternoon, wanting to help, just anything they could do at all. People respond well, and we have got a lot of people on-scene here.
[19:40:11] CABRERA: Back to our coroner, who is joining us, Bill Harris.
Bill, we are hearing children may be among the dead. In your experience, have you ever had any experience like this?
HARRIS: As a matter of fact, back when the tornadoes ripped through North Alabama, I believe it was in April of 2011, our team was deployed to north Alabama, where the devastation was terrible up there. And just multiple -- great fatalities in that storm. But this is a small community. People are coming together. I have had family show up now at my command center looking for people they can't find. And hopefully they will be at the hospital and just injured. But now the task is to identify the decedents that we do have and then get them in touch with the families to let them know what happened.
CABRERA: And sheriff, what should families do now?
JONES: Well, at this point, we are trying to make sure that the individuals and residents from this are that they report to their families, let them know they are OK. That's going to be significant. That will help to narrow down our search efforts if we can locate individuals that lived in this general area and report into us, let us know they are OK. That would help us a lot.
CABRERA: So you still have people who are unaccounted for.
JONES: Yes, ma'am, we do have some people that have not been accounted for.
CABRERA: Do you believe people had enough warning?
JONES: I was -- I know that there was a warning being broadcast by our local media. So there was a warning in effect at the time that the storm came through.
CABRERA: Wow. Just incredible damage.
Sheriff, thank you for joining us as well as Bill Harris, the coroner. We know you guys have a lot of work to do. Thank you both, again, for being our eyes and ears, helping to inform our viewers. Our thoughts, our prayers, sending best wishes to your whole community.
And let's get over to CNN meteorologist Tom Sater now in the CNN weather center.
Tom, this sounds just awful in terms of the damage. We talked to somebody with the national weather service who says preliminarily they are believing this could have been at least an EF-3 tornado.
SATER: Yes. Possibly a four.
CABRERA: Tell us more about that.
SATER: Well, the survey crews are going to go out and they are going to look at that damage tomorrow. It could be an EF-4, too, possibly. But when we talked earlier, Ana, we said that this could have been what we think is a wedge tornado.
It's not the image that we typically see of your rope kind of image of a tornado. A wedge has an extremely large bottom surface area. So the destruction is so much wider. And therefore, you will see the aerial pictures of just homes completely destroyed or off their slabs. We are getting some good news, and that is the intensity of some of these thunderstorms are now losing all the ingredients they need to produce tornadoes. We still have a few warnings. And this is a watch box in effect until
11:00 p.m. That includes parts of Georgia and South Carolina. If we have a few tornadoes spin up, they are going to be on the southern end of this line through the panhandle of Florida moving into south and southeastern areas of Georgia.
Good news is we had a tornado warning knocking on the door for Columbia, South Carolina. That is no longer in effect. It's a severe thunderstorm warning. But when you look at the area of concern right now, this is Panama City. So the line has moved through to the east. But we have a couple of warnings now in effect. That's going to take it close to Tallahassee or just to the south if it continues.
To the north, though, we are losing, now that we have lost the daylight heating of the day, we are going to lose some of that intensity. So Columbia is under a severe thunderstorm warning, and south of Savannah.
But when we go back and you asked, again, about the warning, was there a warning. There was. We had probably almost three dozen tornado warnings. Some are radar-confirmed rotation. Some are visuals. And, again, if you look at the line from Tuskegee, Alabama, across the border to Columbus, Georgia, we had a couple of thunderstorm cells that dropped tornadoes. It wasn't just one thunderstorm cell. You follow airport. We had damage there.
Before we even had reports of this possible wedge tornado, we had early reports of people trapped in homes, trapped in service stations, on interstate 80, state highway 80. Warner Robbins, south of Macon by about seven miles. So there's a lot of surveying that the crews are going to do. It's unfortunate now that we have lost daylight. And for these first responders and crews that are out there, they are working in darkness with the exception of getting any kind of light. And I'm sure they're bringing in as much as they can.
Tuskegee, Columbus, this is beau Beauregard, that is the first cell that moved through. And the second, just a terrible day. Terrible day.
Last weekend, we had an outbreak of tornadoes. That was in the Mississippi-Alabama border. Today we had a big risk with the thousands you know that were outdoors in Montgomery, Alabama, for the commemoration of the march on Selma. They had a line of severe weather move through. It wasn't violent until after it passed through that Selma area, which was good news there. Then you are looking at the other end of this two-headed monster and that is the heavy snow you're getting in New York and toward Boston. We could see anywhere between, you know, five inches to over a foot in some areas. But at least the severe weather threat trying to come to an end. The panhandle of Florida still a concern into southeastern Georgia.
[19:45:27] CABRERA: Wow. Tom Sater, thanks for being there for us.
We will be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:49:35] CABRERA: The final fight against ISIS is now under way. U.S.-backed forces are locked in heavy finding and could defeat the terror group in a matter of days.
CNN's Ben Wedeman takes us to the frontlines.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hell in a very small place. Airstrikes, artillery and mortar rounds rain down upon the so-called the Islamic state's miserable realm.
Reduced to a ragged cluster of tense, wrecked cars and trucks perhaps just a half square mile.
Despite the onslaught people bended in fears can be seen walking to the tents. U.S.-backed Syrian democratic forces have given up trying to estimate how many people, all fighters, they say, are still there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Some of them want to surrender. They are suicidal and some want to escape, but we won't let them, said (INAUDIBLE), the commander on this roof. They can either surrender or die.
They are surrounded, outnumber and outgunned. Final defeat seems imminent, yet they fight on, convinced perhaps, that divine intervention will allow them to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
All indications are that this battle will not be over today or tomorrow as President Trump said one commander told us maybe it will be done in four or five days.
In the evening, SDF troops proper pair weapons for battle. Pounding carries on around the clock. There is no rest for the last hold outs. Midnight and the earth shakes. Night into day, the onslaught continues. ISIS lived by the bullet and the bomb and by the bullet and the bomb. It is dying.
Ben Wedeman, CNN, (INAUDIBLE) eastern Syria.
[19:51:55] CABRERA: Well, state department confirming an American citizen, a doctor is being held in a Saudi jail. A source tell CNN the family of the doctor Walid Fitaihi fears he is being beaten and tortured. The physician went back to the kingdom from the U.S. in 2006 to establish a hospital and has been detained since 2017.
This evening, the state department said it has raised his case with the Saudi government and added we also call on the government of Saudi Arabia and all other governments to treat prisoners and detainees humanely and ensure that allegations of abuse are investigated quickly and thoroughly.
President Trump's point man on U.S. policy in Saudi Arabia is his son- in-law Jared Kushner. And in this past week, new details emerged about Kushner's top secret security clearance. The "New York Times" reporting President Trump commanded his then chief of staff John Kelly to provide Kushner with that security clearance despite concerns from intelligence officials.
Now today the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Mark Warner, said he needs further explanations from Kelly about this. Kushner has extremely sensitive assignments in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, of course, a big part of that, and his documentary, Saudi Arabia, kingdom of secrets, Fareed Zakaria digs deeper.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Donald Trump, a President with no previous foreign policy experience saw Saudi Arabia as the linchpin of his Middle East plan.
Donald Trump had no ambassador in Saudi Arabia. He did not understand the religious dynamics. He did not understand the regional dynamics.
ZAKARIA: He put his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of it all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This policy was being run on Jared Kushner's what's app with Mohammed bin Salman. And Jared Kushner had no clue about the internal dynamics of Saudi Arabia let alone how to manage such (INAUDIBLE). It was flat out crazy stupid.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Fareed Zakaria joins us now.
Let's talk about Jared Kushner, Fareed. How did such a young and politically inexperienced man get such a highly sensitive and high profile assignment?
ZAKARIA: Well, without any question, Donald Trump. I think Donald Trump views foreign policy almost entirely from the lens of personal relationships. He is himself whether you call him an egotism or narcissist depends on your perspective, but clearly he believes everything is in the power of the personality. Look at what happened in the summit in Vietnam. He thought he could just make a deal with Kim and all the problems, 75 years of problems would deal (INAUDIBLE) disappear. So similarly, I think his feeling is the way to breakthrough within the Middle East is to have somebody who he trusts, Jared Kushner, he trust above all us, make a personal relationship with BB Netanyahu and Mohammed bin Salman.
CABRERA: Which it sounds like he has done successfully. Does that give the United States an advantage?
[19:55:02] ZAKARIA: Look, it's a good idea to have good relationships with the other heads of state and people running government, absolutely. And Jared Kushner has done that and it's all for the good, but the danger that you forget that there are deep and enduring and complicated relations between the countries. Foreign policy is not a branch of psychoanalysis. There are a lot of
things have to do with structural interests. And you know, because somebody is nice to you, it doesn't mean they are going to do what you want.
And I think the danger in the U.S.-Saudi relationship is that it has become overly personalized and there is a sense in which we have decided Mohammed bin Salman is our guy. He is the person we back. And so we have given him a blank check where as a much more sensible policy which says it's not about you. You may be a nice guy. Here are the things Saudi Arabia should not do because they destabilizing. There are other things we want to encourage because they have the cause of peace instability.
Instead of that, what we have a buddy-buddy relationship where we decided our buddy, our friend can't do anything wrong, even when it is the murder of a journalist.
CABRERA: Let me pick up on that because we know just this past week Jared Kushner met with MBS, the Saudi crown prince. And the read out from the White House showed no mention of Jamal Khashoggi, "the Washington Post" columnist who was murdered inside the Istanbul-Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Are you surprised?
ZAKARIA: I'm not surprised, because Trump has been moving in that direction for a long time. As you remember, Trump from the start believed the Saudi version of the events even as it kept changing. And he kept believing as it kept changing. So he has thrown in his lot with Mohammed bin Salman.
And again, I don't think that is necessary a bad thing. (INAUDIBLE) we are not going to be able to pick who ruled Saudi Arabia. This guy is probably going to be crown prince and king for the next 50 years.
The issue is the United States should be looking out for its own interests, supporting when appropriate, reigning in when appropriate. We should be encouraging the good elements of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi regime and reigning in the bad elements. Instead, we sort of almost decided this is our guy and we back him no matter what. And that's a bad policy towards any country let alone Saudi Arabia.
CABRERA: Fareed, in your special, you talk about Saudi Arabia and the United States and 9/11 and Osama bin Laden and the mastermind of 9/11, obviously was Saudi. Now the United States has just offered a $1 million bounty for his son who has been making revenge threats, attacks on the United States, threatening attacks in the United States and revenge for his father's death.
On Friday, we also learned Saudi Arabia has revoked his citizenship. How big of a deal is this?
ZAKARIA: It's big deal in the sense that we seem to have finally been able to do this. And this happened about five or six years ago, is that the Saudi government has really turn and is actively combatting the very forces of Islamic fundamentalism and violence that it encourage and spread. I mean, the thing to remember, and this what we go back into the
documentaries, the Saudi government in many ways are set loose the forces that produced Al-Qaeda, that produce ISIS. The ideology, the roots and the money all originated in Saudi Arabia. They created Frankenstein's monster. They now realized it and they are now trying to fight it and have been trying to fight it for a few years now.
CABRERA: So do you see revoking the citizenship as a gesture?
ZAKARIA: It is not more than a gesture. I think is more than a gesture. They now realize that they have to do something. But you know, if you think about the Frankenstein monster story, the problem is you may have created the monster and now, you may want to turn against him, but that doesn't mean you will be able to reign it in.
Certainly, at an ideological level, the danger is that this ideology is out there. It's in Pakistan, it is in Afghanistan, it is in Indonesia, you know. It spread so much that the Saudis now are trying to back pedal. It may not be enough.
CABRERA: Fareed Zakaria, thank you.
And don't forget, make sure you catch Fareed's Special Report tonight, "Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Secrets" up next here on CNN.
And this quick update to our breaking news tonight, deadly tornado striking the southeast. I just spoke to the Lee County, Alabama sheriff who confirmed to me at least 14 people are dead. He tells me he has seen juveniles amongst the bodies. And people are still unaccounted for.
For the very latest developments on the story, stay with us here at CNN and of course CNN.com throughout the evening.
I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Don't forget to tune into the "Bush years, family, duty, power" which premieres at 9:00 right after Fareed's special at 8:00. Again, Fareed Zakaria's special report, "Saudi Arabia, a kingdom of secrets" starts right now.