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At Least 36 Dead, Dozens Missing in West Coast Wildfires; South Dakota's Attorney General Under Investigation After Allegedly Hitting and Killing a Pedestrian. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 15, 2020 - 07:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Houston's fire chief calls Searcy an exceptional firefighter. A selfless teammate and tireless public servant, he was only 45 years old. Master Sergeant Brian Tolliver was an army command paralegal in Pinellas Park, Florida. He was a father of three who served 25 years including 13 as a reservist. One army official calls Tolliver a strong man, noting he recently worked in military suicide prevention. He was just 46. Ashlee DeMarinis taught at John Evans Middle School in Potosi, Missouri. The school superintendent says she was a wonderful teach, beloved by staff, students and members of the community.

The school plans to mark Friday, which would have been her 35th birthday by wearing red, her favorite color. We'll be right back.



JOHN BERMAN, CO-ANCHOR, NEW DAY: So, this morning, a hurricane in the gulf, wildfires in the West Coast, a pandemic that has claimed nearly 195,000 lives as Alisyn likes to say, fires, flood and pestilence for real. So now what we're seeing and living through has put the climate and also science at the center of the presidential race.




TRUMP: You just -- you just watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish science agreed with you.

TRUMP: Well, I don't think science knows actually.

JOE BIDEN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE FOR 2020: We need a president who respects science, who understands that the damage from climate change is already here. And unless we take urgent action, it will soon be more catastrophic. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, joining us now, CNN political correspondent, Abby Phillip. It struck me, Abby, that Vice President Joe Biden's speech yesterday, which was specifically about the fires out west and tying it to climate change was really about more than that because he connected it to the suburbs. He connected it to science. And it seemed to be broadening out this issue to a much larger phenomenon. What did you see there?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that this is what Joe Biden is trying to do, which is make this contrast as stark as possible. And he's being helped along quite a bit by President Trump, as you saw in that clip. The president literally laughing at scientists, telling him that climate change is real. And you know, but Biden is trying to say to voters and what he's been doing for months is saying, you know, the country needs basically an adult in the room. He's trying to argue for some semblance of what they like to call normalcy. And -- but they're doing it by talking about the ways in which he would, as president, address these issues with seriousness, address them with science behind them.

And there is a clear connection here between the way that the president wants to change the facts around coronavirus publicly to fit a narrative, and the way that he does a very similar thing about climate change. So these narratives are very much linked together for Joe Biden. And President Trump makes that job very easy when he does things like what he did at that roundtable yesterday.

CAMEROTA: Yes, and Joe Biden is also trying to, I think, make the case that this is on President Trump's watch. The West Coast is on fire right now. We're seeing hurricane season start earlier right now. Coronavirus is killing almost 200,000 Americans right now. And so let's play a little bit more of what Joe Biden said yesterday.


BIDEN: If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze? If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is under water?


CAMEROTA: I mean, he's just not -- you know, he's going right at it. He's not pulling any punches, he's not speaking --


CAMEROTA: Euphemisms.

PHILLIP: And it is -- I mean, it is true that this is happening right now. One of the challenges for President Trump is that he is actually the incumbent. He's the person who's been in the office for four years. And so, it's very difficult to run an outsider campaign arguing that the other guy is going to bring the things that people are experiencing right now. It just -- I think it doesn't pass the smell test for a lot of voters because I think people recognize that he's had four years to deal with these issues. And beyond that, President Trump actually promised to deal with these issues four years ago when he was running for president. Look, you know, Biden is trying to basically flip this argument on its head, in part because it is having some resonance in some corners of the country.

And the method that he's trying to do it is just simply by saying, look, if you don't like the way that the country is going right now, you've got to hold the person in the White House responsible. And that's typically the message that you see a challenger making against an incumbent. It's hard for President Trump to run as some kind of outsider when he is the guy who is in the White House right now.

BERMAN: You know, Abby, one of the poll questions that I like to watch every four years is when pollsters ask voters, which candidate cares more about people like you? Which candidate cares more about the promise of regular people? And when you see pictures of the president, right, socially distanced from everybody, but everyone else packed in. When you hear the president, and I know you heard this and watched this yesterday, he was asked at a rally, aren't you afraid of being near people. He said, actually, you know, I'm kept in a safe distance from people, and then you rightly ask, well, what about everyone else? How do you make it seem like you care about everybody else, the problems of people like you, if you are living so differently?

PHILLIP: Yes, this is really extraordinary. I mean, the president time and time again seems to assume that coronavirus precautions are only about protecting him and not at all about protecting any of his supporters. And these events are really a thumb in the eye at the science of how this virus spreads.


And you know, the reality is a lot of his supporters don't care. They support his rejection of the mask science. They support his rejection of the idea that people should keep a safe distance, especially when they are indoors. A lot of his supporters are totally fine with that. But there are -- there is a majority of this country, I think we can say that based on the polling that wants the president to take this seriously. And when they see things like this and they hear him basically saying, well, you know, people around me get tested all the time, I'm kept at a safe distance all the time, but nobody else is. I think they see the hypocrisy in those kinds of statements.

BERMAN: All right, Abby Phillip, thank you as always for the discussion, really appreciate it. We have a CNN exclusive. Thousands and thousands of people being put in harm's way in a crisis situation, being made all the worse because of U.S. foreign policy decisions. That's next.


[07:45:00] BERMAN: So, this morning, we have a CNN exclusive. Severe

malnourishment is plaguing thousands of children in Yemen. The United Nations says that country is now on the brink of famine. And Yemen's three major donors, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have drastically cut aid to the war-torn nation just this year. CNN's Nima Elbagir live in London with this exclusive reporting. Nima, you've done so much important reporting from Yemen, and I know, this is just one more piece.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is absolutely heartbreaking, the situation there, and it is difficult enough to watch when it is a man-made disaster. But what we know about, Yemen, John, is that this catastrophe is absolutely because of the actors involved, which include the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. And when we investigated the impact of their cuts, this is what we found. And we have to warn our viewers, John, it is a very difficult watch. Take a look at this.


ELBAGIR (voice-over): In this packed children's ward in the main Abs hospital in the north of Yemen, anxious mothers vy for attention as Dr. Ali Al Ashwal does his rounds. This little girl is named Hafsa(ph), her mother tells the doctor, Hafsa(ph) has five brothers, all malnourished. But Hafsa(ph) is the only one they can afford the medicine for.

This mother of an 8-month-old tells Dr. Ali Al Ashwal her little boy can no longer lift up his head. He's too weak. His little belly is painfully swollen, a tell-tale sign of acute malnutrition.


ELBAGIR: Rows and rows of hungry children. Their bodies so stripped of fat that every move is agony. Hard to believe that these are the lucky ones. These are the children whose parents can afford the car journey to the hospital.


ELBAGIR: Even for Yemen, this is not the norm. Every day brings dozens more patients and more death. This patient died this week, a 1- year-old called Fatimah(ph). It's very hard to keep track of exact figures for child deaths because so many of the children don't even make it to the hospital. All the doctor knows is that things are getting worse.


ELBAGIR: Why is that? That lack of funding Dr. Ashwal was talking about, 80 percent of the 30 million population in Yemen is reliant on aid. The majority of whom live in the Sa'dah; Houthi-controlled north. The Houthis seeking to control the flow of aid, place restrictions on U.N. agencies in areas under their control. In March, the U.S. suspended much of its aid to the north, citing concerns over Houthi misappropriation. Two other key donors, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have also drawn down. The U.S., UAE and Saudi Arabia have all slashed their Yemen aid spend.

The U.S. spend dropping from almost a billion to $411 million. Saudi from over a billion to half that with only $22.8 million actually received. The UAE has given zero dollars to the U.N.'s 2020 Yemen appeal. CNN was able to obtain access to a confidential internal U.N. briefing document. U.N. agencies have confirmed to us its contents. In the aftermath of the drop in foreign aid, the U.N. has shuttered almost 75 percent of its programs.


In previous CNN investigations, we traced serial numbers on armaments in Yemen back to arms deals between Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the U.S., proving that the U.S. government has profited from the chaos of the war in Yemen, and aid agencies tell us the aid drawdown threatens to wreak even more havoc. Masharia Fala(ph) pushes her disabled son in a wheelchair. Masharia(ph) used to receive support through a UAE- funded program, now she can't even afford to get her son Alhassan(ph) to hospital. Malnutrition has left Alhassan(ph) mentally disabled and she has to choose between feeding him or paying for treatment.

She carries him through the little alley that leads to the half finished building site where she and other displaced families have erected make-shift shelters. Up until a few months ago, she tells us Alhassan(ph) was like any little boy, but after the family were displaced from their home by fighting, now, they live here.


ELBAGIR: The aid suspension has driven the people of the Houthi- controlled north into deeper isolation. Yemen's north could already be in famine and we might not even know it.


ELBAGIR: CNN has already received responses to our reporting from Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Arab Emirates. The Saudi Foreign Minister -- ministry told us that they fully intend to meet their commitments, but that the delay in the pledge arriving to the U.N. was because, quote, "a request for United Nations to have the announced pledge be paid in one upfront payment to each individual U.N. agency." The United States Aid Organization, USAID points the finger of blame firmly at the Houthis for obstructing the flow of aid, but tell us, they quote, "continue to support countrywide U.N. operations and some of our NGO partners, life-saving activities in the north." They say they are quote, "by far, the largest donor to the humanitarian response in Yemen this year."

And the United Arab Emirates told CNN, they were the first to respond to the coronavirus outbreak in Yemen, and saying, they are quote, "one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid to Yemen with more than $6 billion provided from 2015 until the end of August 2020." All three reiterated their concerns over alleged Houthi misappropriation of aid. But we've already had a response from one of the most senior U.N. officials Mark Lochot(ph), our reporting and he reiterates that as we showed in that piece, the key issue in Yemen is that slashing of aid by the U.S., the UAE, and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. John?

BERMAN: Look, this is a situation in Yemen that was largely created if not fueled by outside influence from these countries, and now to be left in the lurch by these countries, Nima, slow bureaucracy is not going to save lives. Happy talk is not going to save lives, action and money might.


BERMAN: Phenomenal reporting as always. Thank you so much for --

ELBAGIR: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Really appreciate it. We have other news this morning. A fatal accident involving South Dakota's attorney general is now under investigation after he reported hitting a deer, but a pedestrian, a human being is now dead. Details next.



CAMEROTA: South Dakota's attorney general is under investigation after he said he hit a deer in his car. But the next day, investigators found a man dead in a ditch. CNN's Ryan Young joins us now with more. What happened, Ryan?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, very few details in this case. What we know so far, apparently, he was driving home after a campaign event, hit something in the road, called 911 to say he believed he hit a large animal. Now, we're also getting some new details from a letter that was sent to one of the papers there in South Dakota saying that once he hit this large animal, he called 911 around 10:30 Saturday evening, the sheriff came out, they couldn't find anything, then he drove with the sheriff's vehicle home.

The next day, apparently, he returns with the Chief of Staff and they discovered the body of a 55-year-old man, apparently, someone who was a pedestrian. So Ravnsborg says, he wasn't drinking at all that night, in fact, he's given blood and his cellphone over to investigators. Now, the state highway patrol is actually going to be doing this investigation, but this is the letter that we have not been able to identify on our own. It was something that was sent to the newspaper. In fact, when we reached out to his Chief of Staff, he said he had not prepared a press release.

The reason why that is so important is because yesterday at the news conference with the state patrol, they provided very few details in this case. What we do know at this point, that the attorney general was driving home, apparently it was dark and something was hit in the road, he thought it was a large animal. It was not until the next day, Sunday, that the body of a 55-year-old man was discovered on the side of the road. So this investigation obviously is under the spotlight as people try to figure out exactly what was going on out there. But the AG has said, he's given blood, he has given up his cell phone, now, we have this letter to track down and some of the new bits of information that he's providing apparently. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: So many questions about what happened here, Ryan, thank you very much --

YOUNG: So many --

CAMEROTA: For the reporting.

YOUNG: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: OK, our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Sally continues right now. Good morning everyone, welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world, this is NEW DAY, and we do begin with breaking news. Every single American is waking up this morning to a potentially life-threatening crisis. First, along the Gulf Coast, residents are bracing for Hurricane Sally which could dump torrential rain for days, it could bring a deadly storm surge from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle. So, we'll go to the National Hurricane Center for a brand new update in just moments.