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23 Dead, Dozens Hurt after Tornadoes Hit Alabama; "New Yorker": Trump Intervened to Stop in AT&T/Time Warner Merger; House Judiciary Committee Requests Documents from over 60 Individuals to Start Trump Probes; Sen. Rand Paul Will Vote Against Trump's National Emergency. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 4, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much.

Thanks so much for joining me today. I'm Jim Sciutto, here in New York.

"AT THIS HOUR" with my colleague, Kate Bolduan, starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

It is a grim reality that is settling in for so many in Alabama this morning. As the sun came up, the death toll is expected to rise. Right now standing at 23 people dead including children after a deadly outbreak of tornadoes, the worst the country has seen in almost five years. Right now search crews are fanning out across Lee County where tornadoes ripped apart homes and flattened neighborhoods. Dozens of people are injured. Emergency workers are digging for debris for more survivors and more victims. Everyone grappling with the size and strength of the storm.


BILL HARRIS, CORONOR, LEE COUNTY, ALABAMA: A lot of them are just very good neighbors. We did have several families that have probably just lost everybody in their whole family.


BOLDUAN: Oh my goodness.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung in Alabama for us now.

Kaylee, what are you seeing there?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lee County has turned into this unfamiliar maze of debris from homes absolutely decimated like this one behind me. Downed trees, downed power lines and roads that are passable often times have police check points set up at them so that only homeowners and residents can get back to the areas that are really the most difficult to see. Search and rescue, the priority for authorities today. That process continuing overnight we learned the death toll climbed to 23. The sheriff and the coroner telling me they expect that number to continue to rise. You mentioned it, Kate. It is difficult for so many people here to

grapple with what they are seeing as the sun comes up this morning.

Here is more from the sheriff.


JAY JONES, SHERIFF, LEE COUNTY SHEIFF'S DEPARTMENT: I have not seen this type of level of destruction ever in my experience here in Lee County. And that covers a span back for 50 years I know we have not had anything of this nature before. This hurts my heart. I love this county. And it's extremely upsetting to me to see these people hurting like this.


HARTUNG: We don't know what this home behind me looked like before it got in the tornado's path yesterday. But we just learned there was an older man and his wife at home yesterday when that first deadly tornado ripped through here. Their son living in a trailer behind the home came running out after this home was hit. He ran to the street. We just met the man who passed him, pulled his truck into the drive way and immediately began the process with his own wife and child helping of pulling this older couple out of the wreckage. That man just came by to see if we had met the homeowners today to see how they are doing, but we haven't. We do know they are safe though their home is not.

BOLDUAN: Silver linings is that they are safe. You have to love a neighbor helping a neighbor like that.

Kaylee, I really appreciate it.

There will be many more stories coming out just like that.

One of the towns that is hardest hit in Lee County is Smith Station. You can look at that right there. That is the crumpled and twisted pile of metal what was left of a cell tower that collapsed over on to a highway there.

Joining me right now is the mayor of Smith Station, Mayor Bubba Copeland, joining me on the phone.

Mayor, can you hear me?


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for getting on in what is such a hard day for everyone including yourself.

The latest that we have heard from your town is that there were 2020 homes destroyed. I heard there are no reports of deaths. Is that still the case?

COPELAND: The homes destroyed has gone up in the number of 30 now. It was about 3:00 yesterday and totally levelled the spot probably 20200 yards wide, about a mile long just completely destroyed everything in its path from parts of a school to houses to cell phone tower to businesses. It's a tragic situation. I have lived here my whole life, we have had several tornadoes and never seen anything this devastating and that happened so quickly.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. And two hundred yards wide, a mile long. Some of the pictures we are seeing here from other parts of Alabama, it is always so -- I would say almost nearly impossible to wrap our minds around the force that is required to create such destruction in such a small amount of time. It always seems to be so haphazard. One an entire street demolished and one home remains.

[11:05:17] COPELAND: Something that we experienced was two 12-ton air conditioners were picked up and thrown 25 feet. That is as heavy as a school bus thrown 35 feet. Trailer homes were turned upside down with the wheels where the roof should be, trees cut off at about 15 feet in the air. Unbelievable devastation. We were able to save people yesterday. We had to cut our way in with chainsaws and luckily the community come together. When we cut our way in, we were able to get to people that were trapped in their homes. We were able to get them out yesterday. We had one lady that was on oxygen. We got her out. Another lady that was elderly, we were able to get her out. The community has come together. It everyone worked together to help the citizens. Our hearts and prayers go out with our sister city, Beauregard, as they lost so many through this tragic situation.

BOLDUAN: I read that you helped -- you were part of the efforts helping pull some people from the wreckage. What are you hearing from folks in Smith Station on what this was like yesterday to live through?

COPELAND: I can only describe to you what I saw with my own eyes. To see people looking at the sky in total shock shortly after it come through, I can tell you that when the alarms go off, no matter where you are at from Oklahoma to Texas to Alabama, seek cover. Even if you missed it this time, next time you may not miss it. After what I have seen with my own eyes, the devastation is absolutely incredible.

BOLDUAN: Are you aware of anyone still missing in your town?

COPELAND: No one is missing in my city. Before I went to bed last night, we made sure everybody had a place to lay their head at whether with a family member or at another residence or shelter.

BOLDUAN: Thank god for that.

You have lived in Smith Station your whole life. Now with the sun coming up and a new day that everyone is facing, how do you describe the reality you all are facing today?

COPELAND: You know, I'll tell you, it's a grim reminder of how powerful nature is. It is heartwarming to see the community come together, everyone from our local university to our sister state, Georgia, the people are volunteering their efforts and going above and beyond to help us to get back on our feet. It's going to be a while. In the next days, weeks and months, we will need the prayers of the nation as well as the prayers of Alabama. Alabama, the state that we are, we are going to rebuild. Smith Station is strong. We will be OK.

BOLDUAN: Beyond prayers. If there's anything you need please let us know.

COPELAND: Yes. If anyone is watching this, call 211 if you have needs.

BOLDUAN: One hundred percent. We'll make sure we get that out there.

Mayor, thank you so much for taking a moment to speak with us on what's an incredibly rough day for you and everyone there. Appreciate it.

COPELAND: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

The National Weather Service is on the ground in Alabama to try to get a sense of just how many and how powerful these tornadoes were that created this damage that the mayor was just describing to us.

Let's go to the Weather Center. CNN meteorologist, Chad Myers, is there.

Chad, what are they looking at while they are on the ground? Talk about the force that we are looking at.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: They are looking at damage. They are looking at what happened to a brick structure or its roof, what happened to a wood structure or its roof. They are not looking at mobile home parks. They are not looking at really manufactured homes because they can blow over in 80 or 95 miles per hour wind. We are way beyond that. We are only going to be able to learn how strong this was by a strong brick structure that has never been knocked down before. Last night the Weather Service found a 65 miles per hour storm right into Smith Station. All those dots you see right there. About a half a mile wide and somewhere around 150 miles per hour winds knocking things down. The winds blow things around. They pick things up. What I saw yesterday was that there were 10 separate cells all at one time all producing tornado warnings from different storms. You don't see that a lot. You see that in Oklahoma and Kansas in an outbreak or in Ohio in 1974. You don't see 10 tornadoes on the ground all at one time. Dixie Alley getting that reputation because of humidity from the gulf coast and cold air that is making snow in Boston. They got together to make 36 tornadoes, maybe less because probably one or two of those tornadoes was like the same one just looked at from a different direction.

[11:10:37] Let's get to this EF-3, EF-4 nonsense. EF-3 tornado severe damage. Homes are gone, lives are lost. Somewhere around 150 miles per hour. That's what the weather service saw yesterday before it got dark. Now they have more time today to look to see whether it was an EF-4 tornado. EF-4 tornado means 166 or above. That's like being inside the eye wall of a category 5 hurricane, a lot like some people did experience that in Florida this year near that almost 155 miles per hour marker, 156. It's not long. You're not in it for hours or minutes or ten minutes like you would be in a hurricane. But 30 seconds at 20200 miles per hour destroys lives and takes them.

BOLDUAN: No kidding.

Thank you. I really appreciate the perspective.

National Weather Service on the ground to try to assess a little bit of that today. We will have much more on that coming up.

Zeroing in on the president and expanding the investigation. The House Judiciary Committee is requesting documents from more than 60 individuals to start a series of probes. What are they looking at? And what will it mean for the White House now?

One-time ally of the president, Rand Paul, says, he will vote to stop the president's emergency declaration.


[11:16:19] BOLDUAN: March is very clearly coming in like a lion and it is not just the weather. The House Judiciary Committee says he wants documents for more than 60 people and entities with ties to the president. That includes the president's son and the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. This coming just days after the president's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, offered the testimony about potentially criminal behavior in the Oval Office and elsewhere in Trump world.

Joining me now is CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, and CNN senor political analyst, Mark Preston.

Great to see you guys.

Phil, where do things stand with these investigations? Where are they going?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think one of the biggest questions since Democrats took the majority in the House is what the scale, scope and strategy of the investigation was going to be. We are finding out today exactly the answer to those questions.

Take a listen to what Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said just yesterday.


REP. JERRY NADLER, (D-), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We will be issuing document requests to over 60 different people and individuals from the White House to the Department of Justice, Donald Trump Jr., Allen Weisselberg to begin investigations to present the case to the American people about obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power.


NADLER: It's very clear that the president is obstructing justice.


MATTINGLY: That last comment from the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. It's important to note how they are doing this. This is a step by step approach. These are not subpoenas. These are document requests. These are not hearing requests but document requests. They don't want to rush into anything. They will make the case starting the process by sending out those document requests. We are told by the White House press secretary the White House has received their letter. We expect to get more information about the sheer scale of those requests sometime in the near future, but this is the starting point. This is the first step of what are expected to be many steps in these investigations to come.

BOLDUAN: Mark, Nadler said that impeachment is a long way down the road. What is the big message here? No impeachment proceedings until 2020 if that? And does that mean that impeachment isn't politically advantageous? Impeachment is an entirely political question.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Nadler didn't say that we wouldn't get to impeachment. He said we will be methodical about our investigation. I think that is very important. Nadler has been around long enough to know that for him to jump in and say we are going to impeach him would mean everything he is doing right now would be built upon a very unsafe and unsecure base. So I think that he is being very smart. We see Nancy Pelosi has brought together and said we will go at this in a way that is going to be very methodical and careful because Democrats know if they slip up even once, even twice perhaps then that could put this whole investigation that they are doing into President Trump and his private holdings really into jeopardy.

BOLDUAN: At the very same time, this resolution to cancel the president's national emergency over the wall, it seems to have now enough Senate Republicans to push it to the president's desk. Rand Paul really laying it out there yesterday. What are you hearing about that?

[11:19:47] MATTINGLY: What Rand Paul put into print was essentially what a lot of Republican Senators have been telling me behind the scenes that their position when it came to President Obama and what they viewed as executive branch overreach puts them at a rough position. You really needed to focus on two numbers when it came to this in the United States Senate. Four Republicans ended up joining the democratic Senators. And then 2020. It would take 2020 Republican Senators to join with Democrats to make the resolution veto proof. We know the president is going to veto this. What I'm being told is Republicans feel like they are far short of the 2020 that would be needed to make it veto proof. What you are seeing with Rand Paul, Susan Collins who come out and said they will support this effort to block it is just how unsettled Republicans are. There was a closed-door meeting where vice president Mike Pence was up here. People who were in that meeting came out and basically told me that the Republican conference was not necessarily furious but not in a great place with this. They don't expect to block it but they do not appreciate being put in this position. They do not appreciate the fact that they will have to vote on this. While they will likely support the president, they are not exactly happy that they are here right now.

BOLDUAN: Of course, it makes you wonder, yes this ensures a veto. But how significant is this break, do you think, from the president by Republicans?

PRESTON: I think it is a one off as far as he is concerned. As far as they are concerned, those who would oppose him, we have seen four, we could see more. We have seen that broken down. We can see the likes of Mitt Romney and others who are just very upset about being put in this position where this could become problematic. This becomes the Democrats saying you were not with President Trump on this issue. Why did you allow him to veto it? This could become a political problem for those who are seeking reelection in 2020 if you are a Republican if you oppose him on this issue.

BOLDUAN: No kidding.

Great to see you guys. Thank you so much.

Coming up, a new report of presidential overreach that President Trump personally intervened to try to block a merger between AT&T and Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.

We'll be right back.


[11:27:07] BOLDUAN: A new report in the "New Yorker" magazine says President Trump is once again going where presidents don't go, ordering top aides to pressure the Justice Department to block the merger between AT&T and CNN's previous parent company Time Warner. The administration said over and over again the president had nothing to do with the Justice Department's legal action to block the deal. What about now?

Joining me now, CNN White House reporter, Sarah Westwood, and CNN chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter, the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES."

Sarah, what is this all about?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Kate, as you mentioned, the president's personal views on the merger, his opposition to it, those are well known. But the "New Yorker" article takes it one step further claiming that the president instructed Gary Cohn and John Kelly to get the Justice Department to block that merger in court, that's something that the Justice Department ultimately did, but the DOJ Has denied that political considerations played into that decision, denied that there was pressure from the White House to do so. Here is what the "New Yorker" article said. "According to a well-

informed source, Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly and said in exasperation to Kelly, I have been telling Cohn to get the lawsuit filed. And nothing's happened. I mentioned it 50 times and nothing happened. And nothing's happened. I want that deal blocked."

The article says Cohn advised not to contact the Justice Department but then candidate Trump said his administration would not approve the merger and said he believed it would give the media company too much power and later when the Justice Department was fighting the merger in court, the president tweeted his frustrations at his administration's opposition to the deal wasn't getting more attention. He called it a disgrace in reporting. Around that same time his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, made comments that he denied the comments. The White House said it had no involvement with the DOJ.

The bottom line is that this report paints a very different picture of how the White House and the Justice Department have portrayed this deal.

BOLDUAN: The president made no secret that he didn't like the deal, calling it bad for the country. But what is reported here is something very different because the administration denied this over and over again despite questions about it.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": And there may have been good reasons to oppose the deal. The allegation here is that the president wanted to oppose it for personal political reasons. That is something that AT&T executives had suspected all along. This deal was hung up for the better part of a year due to the lawsuit. The president was yelling, pressuring, trying to stop the deal from going through. That is an abuse of power. And that's something that Democrats will want to investigate.