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Latest on the Jacksonville Airport Accident; Illinois Silicone Plant Explostion Investigated; North Korean Projectile Launches Examined; Trump-Putin Phone Conversation Discussed; Gaza Militants Fire 200 Rockets Toward Israel; Anti-gay Protesters Interrupt Pete Buttigieg Speech; Heroes Praised for Taking on Gunmen in Recent Shootings. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired May 4, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, again. Thank you so much for being with me, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Breaking news out of Florida. An investigative team is on the scene in Jacksonville trying to figure out how a Boeing 737 charter flight ended up in a nearby river. The jet was flying in from Guantanamo Bay late Friday when it landed and slid right into the St. John's River in Jacksonville. There were only a few minor injuries among the 143 people on board who were able to escape on the wing of the plane. CNN national correspondent, Natasha Chen is live for us in Jacksonville. Give us an idea where this investigation goes.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know the Ntsb team from D.C. has just arrived within the past hour here in Jacksonville. They are going to look at the plane that's still sitting in shallow waters. They are going to document what they see and try to figure out whether there was human error involved, something with the aircraft or whether the weather events last night had anything to do with this.

The Boeing 737 went down in the St. Johns River near naval air station Jacksonville. Authorities said the charter jet was coming in for a landing from a military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when it apparently slid off a runway and into the water.

One hundred thirty-six passengers and seven crew members were on board; in the cabin, a mixture of civilians and military personnel. Cheryl Bormann, an attorney from Chicago was on the flight and spoke to CNN.

(BEGIN AUDIO)

CHERYL BORMANN, ATTORNEY ABOARD PLANE: As we went down, we had a really hard landing. Then the plane bounced and screeched and bounced some more. It lifted to the right, then lifted to the left, then sort of swerved, then it came to a complete, like a crash stop.

(END AUDIO)

CHEN: Fire rescue crews arrived shortly afterwards. Twenty-one people were treated at the base with some going to local hospitals. There were no critical injuries or fatalities.

(BEGIN AUDIO)

BORMANN: We couldn't tell where we were, whether it was a river or an ocean. There was rain coming down; there was lightning and thunder. And we stood on that wing for asignificant period of time.

(END AUDIO)

CHEN: It's unclear if severe weather played a role in the crash. There was a tropical disturbance in the area Friday night.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

MICHAEL CONNOR, CAPTAIN AND COMMANDING OFFICER JACKSONVILLE NAVAL AIR STATION: I think it is a miracle. It could have ended very -- we should be talking about a different story this evening.

(END VIDEO)

CHEN: And we know that most of the people on that flight were military or civilians working at Guantanamo Bay. Because of last night's incident, another charter flight scheduled for today has been delayed. That flight is supposed to take a bunch of people working on the 9/11 terrorist case at Guantanamo Bay, so those folks are waiting on a delayed flight right now. Live in Jacksonville, Florida, Natasha Chen. Back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, thank you Natasha.

We're also following breaking news out of Illinois where right now a search and rescue is on hold in Waukegan after a massive explosion at a silicone plant. One person was found dead and two other people are still missing. The search has been called off due to dangerous conditions. Meanwhile four people are hospitalized with injuries. The blast, we are told, could be felt for miles shaking the ground as far as Wisconsin. CNN's national correspondent Brynn Gingras joining me now. What is the latest on the search?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, just an unbelievable search there in a county just 14 north of Chicago. This happened to AB Specialty Silicones which says it manufactures specialty silicon chemicals and it happened at 9:30 last night. As you said, this explosion just rocked that area; it shook the ground. There was just fire everywhere, as you can see from these pictures.

What we know right now is that one, the body of one person has been recovered from that scene. We know that there were nine workers inside that plant at the time of this explosion. Four of the worker, as you said, went to the hospital with varying degrees of injuries. There are two people still missing. I know you had an interview with the Waukegan fire marshal who said they are doing a search and rescue, but they have to hold up for a minute because the area they believe where the people are, the bodies at this point possibly, is not structurally stable. They have to hold on, they have to bring in what they're just calling

heavy equipment to get to that area and hopefully find these two people that are missing. But just an incredible scene that they are working very quickly to try to help these people out. Then, at that point, can conduct some sort of an investigation to figure out what caused this blast. Right now, that's not determined.

WHITFIELD: And this explosion taking place in an industrial area so any residences nearby, not threatened?

GINGRAS: No, not threatened as of yet. They are telling people to stay indoors at this point, just to keep their air-conditions or any sort of venting off. It doesn't appear to be any issues for ventilation purposes or for people in that area.

[12:05:00]

There were five buildings that were impacted by the explosion. Again, just to give you an idea of how big this was. It doesn't appear to be major issues. Although, at this point, it's too soon to tell; they're still trying to do the investigation.

WHITFIELD: Brynn Gingras, thank you so much, appreciate it.

All right, coming up next, North Korea launches several projectiles just months after Kim Jong-un's second summit with President Trump. We'll talk about the latest test for this president, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: North Korea launching a barrage of short range projectiles overnight. According to South Korean officials the unidentified projectiles came from the eastern shore. Right now, they are trying to determine if the projectiles included any missiles. Japan says the objects fell short of their territorial waters. With me now is Nic Robertson in London and Sarah Westwood in Washington. So Nic, you first. Is it a coincidence that this launch comes just days after Kim Jong-un met with Vladimir Putin?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I don't think anything that happens happens on the South Korean or Korean Peninsula, rather, we can take as coincidence at all. It doesn't bear scrutiny. It certainly seems that Kim Jong-un, when he was able to meet Vladimir Putin was able to do what he's been wanting to do, which is step foot more on the world stage. He had that recent meeting back in Hanoi in February this year with President Trump. He's had several meetings now with President Xi Jinping.

[12:10:00]

Meeting with Vladimir Putin and Vladivostok in Russia will have made him feel that he is getting heard. Will it perhaps emboldened him. It shouldn't come as any surprise in the context of the relationship with the United States, that we should wake up one morning and find out that there have been projectiles fired. They were fired from a range between 43 miles to 125 miles. It still isn't clear, precisely, what these projectiles were.

But, the very act of doing it is an indication that Kim is testing his relationship with President Trump. He is testing President Trump, if you will. You know, we have watched satellite analysis of launch facilities in North Korea over the past few months. Back in March, there was an analysis of a launch, missile launch facility in North Korea that appeared to be preparing for launch.

Back in December, the same satellite analyst said that launch facilities seem to be expanded. So this has been a work in progress. So as you say coming so soon after that meeting with President Putin, Kim Jong-un does seem to be sending a very clear message, a test to President Trump.

WHITFIELD: And then Sarah, what is the reaction from the White House or at least response?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, Fred, the White House is saying little on what officials have learned about North Korea's actions on Friday night. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the White House was aware of the situation yesterday, they were monitoring it. A senior administration official told CNN that National Security Advisor John Bolton had briefed the president on those launches from North Korea. Beyond that, we have seen not much in the way of reaction from this administration that could be labeled a provocation from North Korea.

The administration is not describing it that way. Trump did take to twitter this morning to weigh in on the launches. He wrote, "Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe Kim Jong-un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea and will do nothing to interfere or end it." And he went on to say he also knows that I am with him and does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen.

You know Trump has clung to the hope that he could reach some sort of denuclearization deal with the Kim Jong-un regime in North Korea. He stuck by that after the unsuccessful talks with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in February. Trump and Vladimir Putin actually discussed North Korea yesterday in that phone call they had. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says Trump asked Russia to step up pressure on North Korea to get it to denuclearize but clearly the president this morning with the response we just heard, not trying to escalate the situation with Kim Jong-un at the moment. Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right, Sarah Westwood, Nic Robertson, thanks to you both, appreciate it.

So as we said, President Trump spoke on the phone with Putin for more than an hour on Friday. The White House is silent on what the two leaders talked about when it comes to concerns over North Korea. The president says they did talk about the Mueller report, but did not discuss Russia's election interference.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It started off...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

TRUMP: Excuse me, I'm talking, I'm answering this question. You are very rude. So we had a good conversation about many things. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ask him not to meddle in the next election?

TRUMP: We didn't discuss that, really we didn't discuss it.

(END VIDEO)

WHITFIELD: All right, with me now, Steve Hall, retired CIA Chief of Russia Operations and a CNN National Security Analyst. Also with me Patrick Healy, a Politics Editor for the "New York Times" and a CNN Political Analyst. Good to see you both.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Hi Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right so Steve, let me begin with you and your reaction to how the president describes his conversation with Putin and how the Russian press is calling this or describing this, you know, a real collegial approach. What do you see in what's on display? Who has the upper hand between these two leaders?

HALL: Yeah, the upper hand question, Fred, is really an important one. I think it's important to step back and look at the context here. The United States has been attacked by Russia in 2016 and by all indications; it's going to be attacked in 2020. This is something everybody, virtually everybody perhaps with the exception of the President of the United States agrees on, republicans, democrats, Trump nominees to his cabinet, everybody agrees on that, yet you have the president having a very collegial conversation.

You know it takes me - imagine Roosevelt picking up the phone after Pearl Harbor and talking to the Japanese and saying my military tells me something happened but I know you guys are better than that.

[12:15:00]

I know we have agreements in place, so let's forget about the whole thing. The attacks by Russia are more insidious, they're not as obvious as bombs going off in places and people being killed, but they're very insidious and very important attacks nonetheless, and yet our president says, yes, we didn't discuss not doing that in the future and it just -- I don't understand how that conversation could have gone like that.

WHITFIELD: And then -- and Patrick, you know, the president also, you know, described -- he had this phone call, the White House initiating the call, you know, to Putin. We understand it to be a phone call, but then the president said, you know, when -- when they were talking about the Mueller report, that Putin smiled and -- and described what was a mountain is a real mouse. I mean, what is it with the deference, I mean, the continued deference even though the intelligence community has said, yes, you know, Russia interfered with the elections. Is it bigger than just the president being worried about, you know, challenges of whether his presidency is legitimate or is there something else, an advantage the president sees in ignoring the interference?

PATRICK HEALY, POLITICS EDITOR, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, from his own view, Fred, there's nothing gained by talking about 2016 anymore either for him or in what he sees as this relationship with Putin. In his ego, in his view of himself, he sees himself, again, as -- as kind of the master deal maker and if everyone would let him alone and let Putin and -- and Trump make, you know, make these decisions and do these deals, they would be able to somehow figure out Venezuela and North Korea and Syria and all of these places in the world. And it defies so much evidence and so much of what, frankly, President Trump's own national security advisers and the American intelligence agencies say, which is, you know, evidence-based, fact-based, you know, signs that Putin's approach, Putin's motives, you know, the actual actions of Russia are in conflict with what American priorities are, what -- what Americans are trying to achieve overseas.

So again, in Trump's kind of world view and in his own ego, yes, it's bigger than -- than just -- than just 2016. But you know, Steve is absolutely right. I mean, legitimacy is so much of what drives this president and the notion that he somehow can't address 2016 or 2020 when everyone knows what is going to happen with Russia because to even bring it up might suggest that he's not winning on his own, you know, just goes to an insecurity and ego in this president.

WHITFIELD: And Patrick, you know, the president said, you know, he smiled. I mean, they're on a phone call. I mean, you can't really see --

HEALY: Well, Fred --

WHITFIELD: -- I don't know what that meant except for is that flattery of, like, I know him so well? What is that?

HEALY: It's -- it's flattery -- you know, it's -- it's flattery, but Fred, I've interviewed, you know, Trump over the years and he says things that are very strange. He said 9/11 occurred when people were eating dinner. 9/11 occurred, the towers fell when people were having lunch. You know, the president --

WHITFIELD: It was really early (ph) in the morning. Yes.

HEALY: -- why he says -- why he -- right, when it was -- we all know when 9/11 happened. The president says these things, you know, everyone believes X, everyone believes Y. It's the way he talks and it's why people like James Comey and even Rod Rosenstein and others -- many others in the administration, you know, have had grave doubts about, you know, sometimes what the president is saying and thinking.

WHITFIELD: And Steve, you see this as, you know, Putin interpreting, you know, this interaction, you know, as a real opportunity for geopolitical pursuits, that his influence, whether it be Venezuela or perhaps even North Korea or elsewhere is being bolstered by this kind of relationship he has with the U.S.

HALL: Sure. I mean, if you look at it from Vladimir Putin's point of view, you know, he undertook this massive influence operation, this active measures attack on the United States in 2015 and 2016. The guy he was supporting, Trump, won, now is in office. And so when Putin looks back on this, he says, yes, this is great because things are going really well, the United -- the president of the United States is basically letting me off the hook for things like involvement in Venezuela and, you know, Eastern Ukraine, Crimea, you know, you can list all those things that the Russians have been up to and not been behaving well as -- as members of the international community.

And yet there is no significant pushback from, you know, the leader of the United States of America. Which means, for Putin, hey, you know, it's -- it's -- I got free reign, I can do it again in 2020 against the United States, I can move ahead in Venezuela if I want to, or elsewhere to advance my geopolitical goals, which by the way, are anathema to the United States' interest.

[12:20:00]

It's a zero sum game for Putin. He wants the U.S. to lose at Russia's expense so that Russia wins. You can't cooperate very much with -- with a government that espouses that approach.

WHITFIELD: And -- and then both Putin and Trump would want a similar outcome in 2020 than what was seen in 2016. All right. Steve Hall, Patrick Healy, thank you so much.

HEALY: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, 40 million Americans under a severe weather threat today and parts of Davenport, Iowa are still trying to recover from flooding made worse after a levy breach along the Mississippi River. We'll talk with that city's mayor, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: 40 million Americans are under a severe storm threat today as tornadoes, hail and heavy rains could sweep across parts of the country. Ten million people are under a flash flood watch because of the downpours. And it's all part of a system already blamed for at least seven deaths across the U.S. Right now people in Iowa are still using boats to get around after record flooding hit Davenport following a levy breach on the Mississippi River. The water climbing midway up buildings and almost submerging cars. Joining us right now is the mayor of Davenport, Iowa, Frank Klipsch. So, Mr. Mayor, describe for me the conditions.

[12:25:00]

FRANK KLIPSCH, MAYOR, DAVENPORT, IOWA: Well, fortunately, the -- the breach came at a temporary flood protection system that we implement. We have nine miles of river front and parks along most of that way, so most of the water is in that park system. About two blocks into our city -- and I guess I want to reiterate the point that Davenport's open for business. But the -- about two blocks into our northeast corner of downtown and along the length of our city there's water and there've been a number of people who we evacuated, about 30 to 40 residents and a number of businesses in that area.

We're monitoring our flood protection system and -- and so far, it's -- it's holding. We're being very sensitive to also out water -- water treatment plant and our fresh water plant as well to make sure those are all held up. But we've been delighted by the tremendous outpouring of support we've received.

WHITFIELD: So Mr. Mayor, given that you are on the river, you know, there are always, you know, the threats of something like this but this is -- these are extenuating circumstances, right? I mean, we're talking about a levy -- and we're talking about a levy breach or temporary barriers that have been breached?

KLIPSCH: Yes. And again, I am also the co-chair of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative. We represent all 88 mayors along the Mississippi and I've received a lot of calls saying, thank you, Davenport, for using your -- your park system like you did because without (ph), we'd even be more inundated down river. So this is something we've gotten very good at. This was -- this is the most precipitation in the last year that's been recorded in the last 124 years, plus a very cold and wet winter, there's no reason -- no -- no way to saturate any more water, we have no room for the water.

So all those conditions have added to this. We're good at this and we're going to continue to find ways to even get better and better at it as well. But fortunately we're having some dry days right now and the water's already dropped a little over a half foot and so that's encouraging.

WHITFIELD: Wow. So looking at these pictures, I mean, it's extraordinary to see how much water has flooded out this area. And of course when rivers recede, that assists you in helping to, you know, get rid of a lot of the water. You said it's gone down by about a half foot to a foot or so, but I mean, describe for me what the days ahead are going to be like.

KLIPSCH: Well, I think a lot of the businesses -- the northeast part of -- I mean -- yes, the southeast part, I mean, of our downtown is really going gangbusters with development. A lot of young entrepreneurs have put in restaurants and a variety of other things. So we're going to re-double our efforts to get them back into those facilities. The clean-up will be extensive but we have a lot of people that have volunteered their help and even the 88 mayors along the river have called and said, how can we help. But the Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the Coast Guard, Iowa National Guard, all of those entities are involved plus all the surrounding cities and counties.

So we have a very resilient community and a very resilient population, that's why I love living in the Midwest, it's a can-do group of people that all come together and -- and help us with the recovery efforts.

WHITFIELD: Mayor Frank Klipsch, we are wishing you and everyone there the best. KLIPSCH: Well, thank you very much and let's pray for some nice, dry,

warm weather for the next few days. And -- and again, thank you for the opportunity to talk with you today.

WHITFIELD: All those prayers coming your way. Thank you so much. All right. Still ahead, increasing tensions in the Middle East. The Israeli military says as many as 200 rockets have been fired from Gaza and Israel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:32:21] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news out of Israel where officials say more than 200 rockets have been fired from Gaza towards Israel injuring two Israelis. The Palestinian Ministry of Health says two people died, including a baby after Israel retaliated with air strikes.

Oren Liebermann is near the Gaza border. So Oren, what's happening?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, I'll take you right in behind me. Here you can see the smoke trail from three rockets beginning to fade right now but that's the smoke's trail from three rockets that were launched just moments ago from the northern or central northern Gaza Strip as the fighting here continues. As you pointed out, the latest information from the Palestinian Ministry of Health is that a one-year-old baby girl was killed in an Israeli air strike, her pregnant mother wounded. That as the fighting here continues.

To this point, Israel says more than 200 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. And we saw evidence of more of that here behind this with the launches just moments ago here and that continues. Meanwhile, Israel has carried out and continues to carry out air strikes, artillery strikes, and tank strikes against what they say are Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad military targets inside of Gaza as the fighting continues. And crucially, as the fighting here so far has been escalating throughout the day.

This round of fighting shatters what had been a relatively quiet few weeks over the course of the past month or so. This started on Friday afternoon when Israel says a Palestinian sniper wounded two Israeli soldiers, one moderately, one lightly. Israel responds with a strike that killed Gaza militants belonging to Hamas military wing and that led us into the escalation we've seen today. And so far, Fredricka, it has continued and we'll see where it goes from here and crucially if it continues to escalate.

WHITFIELD: And is there a feeling it is likely to escalate?

LIEBERMANN: There is certainly that fear. We hear explosions above us that might be an interception of Israel's iron dome aerial defense interception system of a rocket. We'll find out shortly here. But there is a fear that this could continue to escalate.

In past times where we've seen these sharp rounds of escalation, it's been capped at roughly 24-48 hours. Egypt and the U.N. have generally stepped into moderate, to mediate between Israel and Hamas to make sure the fighting comes to a close. And that's what we expect to happen here. Egypt and the U.N. try to step in.

One of the key questions is, will they be successful? We've heard from officials that Israel and Hamas are interested in maintaining the calm and perhaps even trying to reach some sort of long-term agreement. But they're not the only players in this game here. Islamic Jihad, one of the smaller factions but more powerful factions inside of Gaza, it's in their interest to (INAUDIBLE) they say they want to try to derail any attempt to reach some sort of ceasefire agreement.

Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Oren Liebermann, thank you so much.

[12:35:00] All right, still ahead, presidential candidate Major Pete Buttigieg is featured on the cover of TIME magazine with his husband. But his historic campaign is also facing homophobic protesters. We'll show his response, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Welcome back. The 2020 Democratic field continues to grow by the day. Twenty-one candidates now vying for the party's nomination. Several of the big name prospects are out on the campaign trail today in states that hold early presidential votes. Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar are holding events in Iowa. Joe Biden is in South Carolina. Kirsten Gillibrand in campaigning in Texas where Beto O'Rourke is also holding an event.

So one of the Democratic candidates who has seen his polling numbers on the rise since joining the field is Pete Buttigieg. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana found himself gracing this week's cover of TIME magazine with his husband. But as the only gay candidate in the race, he is also running into some opposition.

[12:40:02] At a speech in Texas on Friday, Buttigieg got heckled by anti-gay protesters. Someone started shouting things like marriage is between a man and a woman and repent. Despite the harassment, Buttigieg took the high road.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So that moment when I was packing my bags for Afghanistan for the purpose of defending that gentleman's freedom of speech, not to put too fine of a point on it, but I believe at the time our president was focused on season 7 of the Celebrity Apprentice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So Buttigieg came out four years ago during his re- election. He married Chasten, his husband in 2018.

And with me now is former Representative Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona. Congressman, thank you so much for being with me.

JIM KOLBE (R-AZ), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Thank you, Fred. Nice to be with you.

WHITFIELD: Great. So you served 22 years in the House of Representatives and you came out as gay in 1996 when you voted for the defense of Marriage Act and then you married your male partner in 2013.

KOLBE: That's correct.

WHITFIELD: So, you know, I want to start by getting your reaction to how Buttigieg responded to those protesters and, you know, let's begin with the fact he is being met by sentiments like what we just saw exemplified.

KOLBE: Well, I think he's handling it exactly as he should, just going on and talking about the issues that he thinks are important, that are important for this country. I really don't think the gay issue is going to be a major factor. I mean, it'll certainly be a factor. There's -- look, there's 21 candidates in this race, every one of them has something they've got to deal with there. And certainly, that's one that he has to.

But the people that are going to oppose him on that were probably going to oppose him anyhow. So I think he's well positioned. I know when I came out -- I mean, that's 20 -- more than 20 years ago that I came out and I was re-elected by the same margin that I've been elected before I came out and I served five more terms after that. So -- and that was Arizona.

I don't think it's as major a -- is big a problem. I think there's going to be other issues, his age, where he's from, not having been mayor to a large city. There's other things that I think are going to be bigger factors.

WHITFIELD: And Buttigieg, you know, he's not avoided discussions about, you know, in his sexual orientation. Here he was, in fact, discussing the topic in Dallas just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUTTIGIEG: We each come into this race as who we are, and, you know, the fact that I'm a mid-westerner, the fact that I'm a veteran, the fact that I'm happily married to my husband are all part of who I am. Everybody in some way has found their lives shaped by policy and shaped by the decisions made in Washington. Somebody whose marriage depends on the grace of a single vote in the Supreme Court, I feel that very acutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So you've already said he is handling this well. and is it your feeling that it is something he is going to continue to have to address or be put in a position of addressing? KOLBE: Well, it's clearly going to be a big part of the campaign simply because he is the first openly gay person to be running for president and the first one certainly going from where he was at the very bottom to now, at least in the upper second tier or first tier of candidates. And I think still it's going to be an issue that he's going to have to be dealing with.

But as I say, those I think that would just oppose him on that issue alone are probably going to be opposed to him anyhow. They're just not going to be with him if you're talking about a very conservative evangelical person from a state like Mississippi or Alabama. They're not going to be as -- with him anyhow. So I think he has a real chance because I think the country is looking for fresh leadership, and I think it's looking for somebody that's young that we can bring new to the scene with new ideas. He's smart, I know him. He's very smart, speaks seven languages, he has experience in Afghanistan. The guy is good.

WHITFIELD: Yes. I think it's eight languages, not to, you know, take away.

KOLBE: Well, English plus seven.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Knowledge of lots of languages. So, you know, this also comes, you know, at a time when we're seeing, you know, new polling with mixed results on how Americans feel about having a gay president. A Quinnipiac poll says that 70 percent of Americans are open to voting for a gay man for president. But that same poll says most voters don't believe America is ready for a gay president.

I remember he was asked, you know, do you think America is ready for a gay president? He said hey, let's just find out. So what do you think?

KOLBE: Yes, I think they are. And that number I think is significant. It was only a less than 15 years ago that that number was under 50 percent that said they could be happy or they would be satisfied with somebody who is gay running for president. Now it's 70 percent. And it's going up with every single poll with every single election, every single year. So I think it's now much more accepted than it was.

You can hardly find anybody in society today in your circle or my circle that doesn't know somebody who is gay.

[12:45:03] And so, when you know somebody who is, it's much easier to be accepting of that.

WHITFIELD: All right, former representative from Arizona, Jim Kolbe, a pleasure. Thank you so much.

KOLBE: Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: All right, still ahead, we'll remember the student who confronted the shooter at UNC Charlotte. But first, menstruation is an essential fact of life. but, in many parts of the world, it's considered taboo. This not only makes monthly periods extremely stressful for girls, it also limits what they can achieve. And this is something this woman has struggled with growing up in Ethiopia. Now, she has designed a solution and is changing her country's culture. That's why she is this week's CNN hero.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FREWEINI MEBRAHTU, DEVELOPED REUSABLE MENSTRUAL PADS: In Ethiopia, most women and girls do not have access to sanitary pads. Many girls stay home during their period. They're scared and ashamed. Half of the population is dealing with this issue but no one is willing to talk about it.

I knew that I have to make a product that helps these women and girls to get on with their lives.

(FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

All I want is all girls to have dignity, period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So to see how Freweini Mebrahtu's factory is empowering women or to nominate your own CNN hero, go to cnnheroes.com right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:50:33] WHITFIELD: As loved ones mourn the loss of victims from recent mass shootings, they are also honoring the actions of three heroes. This week, two men died when a gunman opened fire on the University of North Carolina Charlotte campus. One of them, Riley Howell actually charged at the suspect before he was shot. The father of Howell's girlfriend says that's the type of Riley was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN WESTMORELAND, VICTIM'S GIRLFRIEND'S DAD: It would make complete sense that he would turn and try to stop it from happening. He's the one that runs toward it instead of running away. I just -- I'm going to miss that kid. I wish more people could have met him. He's a good boy, a good man, a good person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Days earlier, two people rose to the occasion during a terrifying synagogue shooting outside San Diego. Lori Kaye sacrificed herself to protect the rabbi. And Oscar Stewart, an army veteran chased the shooter away.

Let's bring in Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent under President Obama. Good to see you, Jonathan. So many hearts are very heavy. You know, experts, you know, preached, there are three responses to situations like this, run, hide, fight. These people chose to fight. So how were they able to make a difference?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, listen, you know, the success here is that, you know, in the moments of the crisis, they had the situational awareness to fully understand what was going on. You know, a lot of times, you know, we preach run, hide, fight but people just don't understand the totality of the circumstances.

Here, we saw two heroes immediately understand the risks that they were facing and they were able to take the actions that were appropriate at the time to mitigate the threat. These are heroes. They took actions that were above themselves, that was beyond, you know, thinking about themselves. They were thinking about others, about, you know, saving others' lives. I mean, truly the definition of heroism by both Riley and Lori.

WHITFIELD: So these are soft target locations so to speak, you know, schools, houses of worship. What are you assessing as you see these things happen?

WACKROW: Well, listen, you know, attacks take the path of least resistance. Soft targets still remain, you know, a path of the least resistance to cause the greatest amount of harm. They have low defensive posture, they are mass gatherings of people so they're continuously, you know, going to be targets of opportunity to, you know, create the greatest amount of harm.

What we have to do as a community is we start -- have to start coming up with very comprehensive layered approach -- you know, security approach to mitigate threats like this. You know, houses of worship, schools, we have to come together. It's not just one, you know, entity, it's not law enforcement, it's not just the, you know, school administrators. It's -- everybody coming together to come up with a comprehensive defensive plan on how do we mitigate the threats that these soft targets face, while being able to go on with our lives and not live, you know, in fear.

WHITFIELD: Jonathan Wackrow, thank you so much.

WACKROW: Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: Coming up, the very latest on that catastrophic explosion at a silicone plant in Illinois. Will other victims be found? A live report, straight ahead.

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[12:57:27] WHITFIELD: Former White House chief of staff and retired marine general John Kelly has a new job and it's coming with controversy. He is joining the board of directors for Caliburn International, that's the parent company of another business that operates shelters for unaccompanied migrant children. Kelly first raised the idea of separating migrant families when he was in charge at the Department of Homeland Security.

And a church of Scientology cruise ship is now cleared to head back home after one of its crew members tested positive for measles. The Freewinds ship was under quarantine in St. Lucia, it will now head back to its home port of Curacao for doctors to further evaluate the nearly 300 people on board. St. Lucia's health officials said they provided 100 doses of measles vaccines to people on the ship.

And tomorrow, catch an all-new episode of the CNN original series, "The Redemption Project with Van Jones." Van sits down with a convicted drunk driver that left a teenage girl crippled for life. Here is a preview.

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VAN JONES, HOST, "THE REDEMPTION PROJECT WITH VAN JONES": You got a dad, you got a mom, you got a baby sister, you got a young woman in a wheelchair. Why do you want to sit across from all that pain?

Callan Gill: There was -- I've always wanted to meet Ashlee. And I know I'm unworthy of forgiveness.

I knew that I was an alcoholic and I really didn't care. I actually thought that I drove better when I was drunk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have heard her story of why this happened, the drugs and alcohol had taken over, but, I mean, is that an excuse? Is that what you're going to tell me? Is that why this happened? I guess we'll see.

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WHITFIELD: Don't miss this emotional new episode of "The Redemption Project with Van Jones." It airs tomorrow night at 8 -- at 9 rather only on CNN.

Hello again everyone and thank you so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We're following several breaking stories this hour.

Right now, at least one person is dead and two people are missing after a silicone plant exploded overnight in Illinois. The massive fire --

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