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TX Public Safety Chief: Uvalde Response An "Abject Failure"; Authorities: 5.9 Magnitude Earthquake Kills 1,000+ In Afghanistan; Yellowstone National Park Reopens To Visitors Today. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired June 22, 2022 - 11:30   ET



LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: For people between the ages of 18 and 21, who go and buy a gun at a gun store, they're trying to encourage people and states to put mental health records and juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. This bill also closes the so-called boyfriend loophole, meaning that people who are convicted of domestic violence against any serious partner whether they're married to that person or not, they are going to be barred from buying and having guns. That is something that Democrats have been trying to do for the last decade. Erica.

ERICA HILL CNN ANCHOR: It is significant. We'll continue to watch it. I know you keep us posted on all the developments, Lauren. Thank you.

That vote to advance the gun safety bill comes, of course, four weeks after a gunman murdered 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The Texas State Senate is holding a special hearing on school safety in the aftermath of the massacre, where the state's top public safety officials testified that the Uvalde police response was an "abject failure." 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza was among the 19 children killed. Her devastated father spoke with CNN a short time ago in response to those police failures.


ANGEL GARZA, FATHER OF SCHOLL SHOOTING VICTIM AMERIE JO GARZA: I just don't get how you can hear these kids, you know, crying and asking for help but you're scared to enter because your commander doesn't want you to go in. and somebody said -- somebody said at the school board meeting the other day that the kids were probably lying. Just thinking where their parents were. And we were right outside. I was trying to get in. I was put into handcuffs. I was like -- but the ones who told me to trust them didn't save my daughter or any of the other kids.


HILL: CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Uvalde this morning. Rosa, every time you hear -- every time we hear from a parent, from a member of the community, and your heart just sinks a little further.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know it does. And everything that's happening here in Uvalde and in Austin with all of these dramatic hearings that we've been following, you have to take all of this information and considered this. There are 21 people here in this community who have died, there is monumental grief in the family, that was 21 individuals that have not gotten a straight answer about the law enforcement response to the shooting that killed their loved one. Instead, what they've been getting has been changing narratives, conflicting information, and updated timelines. The latest timeline was presented yesterday before the Texas State Senate it was presented by Texas DPS where the head of Texas DPS, Colonel McCraw, calls this an abject failure.

Well, that made the Uvalde Mayor very upset. He came forward, said that the gloves were coming off that he was ready to throw people under the bus, that this community is very frustrated, concerned that this community has been kept in the dark by the state which is the lead investigating agency here. And he said that the state asked him not to release information, not to make comment but after, and these are his words after Colonel McCraw has been releasing information and piecemeal, incomplete, and that in -- that this information is being released in a way that covers up for Texas DPS because the mayor says that Texas DPS was actually in the hallway as well. In it -- and in on all of this criticism, he says should be Texas DPS as well. Here's what he said. Take a listen.


DON MCLAUGHLIN, MAYOR OF UVALDE, TEXAS: Colonel McCraw has continued to -- whether you want to call it lie, leak, or misstate information in order to distance his own troopers and Rangers from the -- from the response. Colonel McCraw has an agenda and it's not to present a full report on what happened and to give factual answers to the families of this community.


FLORES: We've reached out to Texas DPS for comments about this, Erica, and we have not heard back. But just for a second, look behind me. This is the memorial for the 21 people who have died. There's 21 crosses behind me. In the middle of all this mess, in the middle of the finger-pointing, it's those families that are caught in the middle with the grief and the pain and mourning the loss of their loved ones. Erica.


HILL: And those families who deserve answers. Rosa, thank you. Joining me now is CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe. He's the former deputy director of the FBI. Good to have you with us this morning. You know, we -- this has been a mess, let's call it -- let's call it like it is from the very beginning between the changing narratives, as Rosa pointed out, the conflicting information, the changing timelines. Now you have the mayor going after Colonel McCraw here, Colonel McCraw going after the on-scene commander. As we look at all of this if the families and local officials can't even get a straight answer here, how confident are you that this investigation is really going to get to the bottom of what happened in that we're going to know? ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Erica, I don't think there's any reason to have confidence in the investigative entities that we've heard from so far. So those are your local officials in Uvalde and the Texas Department of Public Safety and Colonel McCraw and everyone else, we've heard nothing but misinformation.

And a lot of which I would point out, seems, at least in retrospect, to have been specifically geared to shed the best light possible on the law enforcement response, so that makes it look even worse. Whether it's just sheer incompetence in communication or messaging or an actual intentional cover-up, there's almost no way to know. So I don't -- I don't think you can have any confidence in them.

I have greater hopes for what the Justice Department will do having come in and you know, mounted their own investigation to determine the mistakes that were made and in response to the -- to the tragedy.

HILL: You know, it's interesting some of the comments we heard yesterday and heartbreaking, quite frankly. So the director of Texas Public Safety, Colonel McCraw, we've just heard a lot about made clear who he felt was really standing in the way of officers going into that classroom and stopping the killer. Take a listen.


STEVE MCCRAW, DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering rooms 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children.


HILL: The school district police chief, Pete Arredondo, was the -- was the on-scene commander. McCraw said he didn't like singling anybody out but clearly, he did there. Is Arredondo at this point, the person who should be held responsible?

MCCABE: Well, I mean, at least provisionally, right, McCraw is not wrong about any of those comments about Arredondo in his errors and mistakes and fumbling and his handling and the incidents. Absolutely, there's no way to cover that up. And, you know, look, law enforcement officers and leaders don't like to point to other law enforcement failures. This is a painful thing for -- I'm sure the colonel to have to do but it is absolutely undeniable.

And you know my question for the mayor would be -- he seems to be taking a very bold stand on having made the decision to tear down Robb elementary that children should never have to go back into Robb Elementary. I think that's -- that makes sense. But why should any child or teacher feel confident going to any school in Uvalde knowing that Arredondo, they're still relying on him for their protection?

Arredondo should be removed from his position by any reasonable evaluation of how he performed in that crisis even before we have all the details of what happened. I mean, we know enough at this point, Erica, to know what he didn't do.

HILL: But certainly, what -- a number of the families of the victims have been asking for it directly as well. Before I let you go, I do want to ask you. The Senate's bipartisan agreement on gun reform. From your perspective, how significant are these measures?

MCCABE: It's significant that it happened at all because you know, people are talking about it as the most significant piece of legislation over the last years. It's the only one. So that makes it incredibly significant. I hope that's a sign that maybe people in Congress are thinking a little more proactively about how we could be safer with firearms in this country. It misses the mark in many significant ways. I mean, that's -- we have to call it for what it is. There are some good things in the bill. I think the incentives for the red flag laws is probably the most significant thing.

Now let's be clear, it's not a requirement for red flag laws, it's not a federal red flag -- red flag laws, it simply may lead to states to consider doing that. I think the better laws against firearms trafficking or great thing closing the boyfriend loophole is probably a good move as well. This is a loop that it doesn't do. It doesn't prevent children from going out and buying AR15s. It doesn't ban high- capacity magazines or assault weapons. It doesn't close the gun show loophole. It doesn't require background checks for every sale of a firearm, which seems like a reasonable thing. So it doesn't go nearly as far as I think we need to go but it's a good first step.

HILL: Andrew McCabe, always appreciate it. Thank you.


HILL: Come up. More than a thousand people killed in an earthquake in Afghanistan, so what can be done now to help a country controlled by the Taliban?



HILL: Now to Afghanistan. Well, more than a thousand people are dead after a 5.9 magnitude earthquake in the eastern part of the country, that's according to an Afghan emergency official. So this happened south of Kabul near the Pakistani border. The United States offering heartfelt condolences to those impacted but can do little more than that because the U.S. no longer has any presence in the country. CNN's Scott McLean is live in London. Scott, which aid organizations at this point are able to help?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Erica. Well, if there's any good news in this at all, it's because Afghanistan -- it's because Afghanistan was in such dire straits, even before this earthquake, that many international aid organizations were already there on the ground. The United Nations, the WHO, they were there already, in addition to many other European and other global aid organizations that are there to help and they are there on the ground to hand out any aid that they can. You mentioned the United States, any aid that would come from

Washington would almost certainly have to be funneled through one of these groups in order to make it to Afghanistan because as you pointed out, Washington and Kabul have no official relations right now. And whatever you think of the Taliban, situations like this are a good reminder that you have to deal with them in these cases, if you want to get help to any of the people.

Afghanistan, remember is a country where just in March, the UN was estimating that 95 percent of households didn't have enough to eat. So this was a desperate situation even before. The area that you're seeing these pictures coming out of is about 100 miles south of Kabul. This is an extremely mountainous area. You have houses that are perched on the side of mountains. You also have a lot of them built in the valleys, which makes them extremely prone to landslides as well.

And the head of one Afghan aid organization told CNN a couple of hours ago that that is why he thinks that the death toll has quadrupled since the early estimates this morning. This is also along a traditional fault line as well so earthquakes here are not out of the question. They're certainly not unordinary or unexpected.

The foreign ministry of Afghanistan also says that some 70 percent -- in one particular local area, some 70 percent of the houses in that area had been completely wiped out. The Taliban is pledging cash, direct cash to people who have been injured and the families of those who have been killed but that's a pretty bold pledge, considering the government is so, so cash strapped in the midst of this economic crisis. Erica.

HILL: Yes, absolutely. Scott McLean, appreciate the update. Thank you.

Well, the U.S. in its fight against smoking now plans to do it, only one other country in the world has done. Require tobacco companies to slash the amount of nicotine in traditional cigarettes. Why? Well, the hope is that it will make them less addictive, the former director of the FDA's Tobacco Center telling the New York Times "this one rule could have the greatest impact on public health in the history of public health." Keep in mind here. Smoking still prematurely kills nearly half a million people a year, some 1300 people every day, according to the CDC. CNN's Jacqueline Howard joining us now live from Atlanta. So they would cut the nicotine, but cigarettes are still going to be there.

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: That's right, Erica. This is to reduce nicotine in hopes to help people quit smoking and reduce the number of regular smokers that are out there. But this won't happen for quite some time. So what we can expect next? The FDA will have to issue a notice of this proposed rulemaking by May 2023. And then there will be some time for public comment. And keep in mind, tobacco companies could sue so that this rule does not even happen. So all of that we have to keep in mind could add to the timeline until we could see this actual rule in place.

But as far as the public health aspect here, here's how public health groups have responded to this. The American Cancer Society says that it "strongly supports the administration's intent to set maximum levels of nicotine in cigarettes to reduce their addictiveness." And then we also heard from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and that group says "this is a truly game-changing proposal. But these gains will only be realized if the administration and the FDA demonstrate a full-throated commitment to finalizing and implementing this proposal." So you see, Erica, there's still a lot more time we have to see until this comes to fruition.

HILL: All right, well, we'll be watching for those updates. Jacqueline Howard, appreciate it. Thank you. Just ahead here, Yellowstone National Park is set to partially reopen today for the first time since being hit by those massive floods. We'll take you live to Montana next.



HILL: After massive flooding, parts of Yellowstone National Park are reopening to the public today. There will though be severe restrictions on the number of visitors and where they can go. Officials, of course, still assessing the damage caused by that record rainfall which led to flooding. It could also cost for learning a billion dollars to make those necessary repairs. CNN's Lucy Kafanov is live in Yellowstone with the very latest for us. Look, I know it's tough out there but it is a beautiful view behind you so there's that, Lucy.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erica. It's not a bad office for the day you can see old faithful the iconic geyser behind me. This is the first time that visitors have been able to access this part of Yellowstone National Park and frankly, enter it all together since that catastrophic flooding last week wiped out miles of roads, took out bridges, and really wreaked havoc on this iconic Park in the midst of one of the busiest tourist seasons, the park approaching its 100 and 50th anniversary. Now, let's talk about some of those restrictions that you mentioned. The southern loop of Yellowstone National Park which gives you access to about 80 percent of the park, that reopened this morning but there is a strict license plate system.


KAFANOV: So, odd-numbered license plate cars can enter on odd-numbered calendar days, and even-numbered cars can enter even-numbered days. There are no exceptions for that. Their northern loop is closed right now. Park officials are optimistic that it might reopen in the next two weeks or so but, of course, this depends on the reconstruction efforts. There are so many bridges and roads that have to be repaired. Large sections of roads were washed away.

And just for some context, during a three-day period last week, Erica, Yellowstone National Park got two to three times the typical rainfall that it's supposed to get in the entire month of June. And unfortunately, this is the new normal given climate change. But we are seeing a lot of families here. People are excited to finally be back to get back in touch with their vacations and to see this iconic geyser, Erica.

HILL: Yes, absolutely. Lucy Kafanov, appreciate it. Thank you. Thanks to all of you for joining us this afternoon. INSIDE POLITICS with John King starts after the break.