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At This Hour

KY Governor: At Least 16 Killed In Catastrophic Flooding; Prosecutors Prepare For Court Battle Over 1/6 Testimony; Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) Is Interviewed About Pelosi Travel To Asia. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired July 29, 2022 - 11:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. At This Hour, deadly flooding devastates towns in Kentucky, the latest disaster in the climate crisis. San Francisco and New York State declare monkeypox emergencies at the white -- as the White House moles its next move. And 124 days after the slap heard around the world, Will Smith offering an on camera apology to Chris Rock. This is what we're watching At This Hour.

Hi, everyone. I'm Erica Hill. Kate Bolduan is off today. We begin with the catastrophic flooding in Kentucky. The state's governor just confirming at least 16 now dead and there are children among those deaths. Governor Andy Beshear giving an update right now as you see he's going to toward the extensive damage from the floods a bit later today. What we know right now, hundreds of people have lost their homes. Countless businesses destroyed. And rescuers are working to reach those who are still stranded by these high floodwaters.

The extreme weather is impacting several states this morning. Overnight in Las Vegas, heavy rains leaving multiple casinos and parts of the famous strip completely underwater. We'll have more on that in a moment. But we do want to begin this hour with CNN's Joe Johns who is live in Eastern Kentucky joining us with more on that historic flooding there. Joe, good morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. Grim business here in eastern Kentucky, I talked to a family just a little while ago who described a heartbreaking situation. In the first place, they live up high. And as you talk to people around here, for many people, the difference between losing a house and having a home, the difference between life or death simply had to do with how high up your house sat here in eastern Kentucky.

And to describe the situation where after the rains came and the flash flood started building, they could hear the cries of neighbors, people calling for help. But they couldn't help them because they couldn't get across the water, so concerning situation certainly for everybody here. Meanwhile, you talked a little bit about the governor. We're told that he did postpone an earlier flyover today simply out of concerns about the weather apparently going to go at a later time and going to brief reporters.

He did get a commitment from the White House, we're told, to declare a state of emergency here in 12, 13 counties in Kentucky as the cleanup begins. Of course, we're still talking about a recovery at this stage. Here's the governor now talking about the situation in the state and how it's unprecedented.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): We've never seen something like this. Folks who deal with this for a living, I've been doing it for 20 years. I've never seen water this high, whole roads washed out. We still can't get to a lot of people though there's so much water, the current is so strong. It's not safe for some of the water rescues that we need to do. So we'll be in the search and rescue certainly today and tomorrow. And then we're going to be looking at a year's worth at least of rebuilding.


JOHNS: And I would say looking at the devastation just here along this road, maybe more than a year. They did bring in the National Guard. And they say that contributed quite a bit to the rescue and recovery effort yesterday. Back to you, Erica.

HILL: Yes, so important to have as much help there as possible. Joe, appreciate it. Thank you.

Joining me now is Kentucky's Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman. It's good to have you with us this morning. I want to pick up on what we were hearing there both from Joe John's, my colleague, and also from Governor Beshear. The talk about not being able to get to a lot of people who need to be rescued because of that rushing water, what about the communications just in terms of staying in touch with people? Are there communication concerns still this morning?

LT. GOV. JACQUELINE COLEMAN (D-KY): Well, first of all, Erica, thank you so much for having me on and for bringing attention to this devastation in eastern Kentucky. To answer your question, yes, there are many efforts ongoing at the state level, as well as in the local elected officials communities that have been most impacted. Some of those communications are organic. They are neighbors reaching out to neighbors, utilizing social media, texting, calling to check on family members. And those messages are making their way to Kentucky Emergency Management as well as the State Police Post in the region.

And then there are systems being put in place for how to continue the rescue but as well as making sure that we get supplies and food and are able to offer shelter to victims who may not have anywhere else to go. The governor's actually opened three of our state parks in the eastern part of the state, specifically to house folks who have lost everything, as they worked begin to rebuild their lives.


HILL: It is, the pictures are devastating. And I know it will be traumatic for some time to come for those folks. President Biden did just approve that emergency disaster declaration. What will that or what does that open up for your state? And how quickly do you think you could see some of that aid and funding?

COLEMAN: Well, the governor moved very quickly to declare a state of emergency and we appreciate the Biden administration for responding quickly as well understanding how dire the situation is in Eastern Kentucky. We have 17 counties that have been significantly impacted. The most impacted looks like at the moment it is Breathitt, Letcher, and Perry Counties. And so by declaring a state of emergency, we're going to be able to get a not just now for rescue and recovery missions, but also in the long run as we work to rebuild, which is it's going to be a long road.

As you can see from these pictures, this is not anything that's going to be an easy recovery. But I will tell you this. We have the most compassionate leaders. We have the most compassionate and hardworking people right here in Kentucky. And the only thing I've seen that rivals the devastation that you're seeing in these images is seeing Kentucky's response. We are going to stand with these folks today, tomorrow, and in all the days to come as they rebuild their lives.

HILL: And that community will be so important. You know, Governor Beshear earlier this morning on CNN said he does expect the current death toll which is now up to 16. He expects that will likely more than double including some children. Do you share those concerns?

COLEMAN: I do and you know, Governor Beshear and I we are the governor and lieutenant governor but he's a dad of a 12 and 13-year-old. I'm the mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old and the empathy and the shock of thinking about putting yourself in those shoes, which is what we do as leaders is more than most of us can imagine right now. I cannot imagine looking for family members, especially children and elderly, which are obviously high priority at this point. It's devastating.

And you're right, that number continues to raise. The flood has not -- the waters are not crested yet. We're still having rainfall in Kentucky that's prevented the governor from actually doing a flyover this morning. He will do it but when it's when it's safe. And so the tragedy continues. But we've already conducted 50 air rescue missions, boat rescues, and we're determined to save as many folks and to find as many folks as we can.

HILL: Real quickly before I let you go, beyond some cooperation from the weather, what is your biggest need this morning?

COLEMAN: Our biggest need is certainly we want to make sure that we get water and cleaning supplies to the locations and the counties that have been affected. Those are being set up, those drop places are being set up as we speak. But to anyone who's watching that feels moved and feels the need to help in some way. And at every dollar you can direct to the team Eastern Kentucky Relief Fund is dollar that will go directly to supporting this rescue mission and helping our fellow Kentuckians rebuild.

So website is And please know how very much appreciated the people of Kentucky are and how grateful we are for the support, the already the outpouring of support that we've seen to make a part of this state who has been that has been left behind in the past, understand how much we care for them.

HILL: Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman, appreciate your time this morning. We will of course continue to stay on the story as well. Thank you.

Well, the extreme weather also impacting other states, residents and businesses in Las Vegas cleaning up this morning after flash flooding there overnight. Take a look at some of these videos shared on social media. That's water pouring into casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. Multiple buildings on the iconic strip damaged by those floodwaters including Caesars Palace and Circa, heavy rains turn streets as you can see here, into rivers. Despite the extensive damage, there are no reports of any injuries.


Well from this historic flooding to blistering heat, the extreme weather really feels like it's everywhere. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers tracking all of it for us this morning. Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Erica, I have a map behind me that I don't really ever get to show because it rarely ever happens. We have heat, a flood event, another heat event, another flood threat, and then extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest, and then kind of some calming weather up here across parts of the Great Lakes. But just one thing after another, the heat is caused by all of the humidity that's in the air and the humidity in the air because the air is warmer than it used to be is now coming down in the form of significantly heavy rain.

Very heavy rainfall causing rapid rises in the rivers there in Kentucky. I measured out. It went up about 14 feet in six hours. But now cresting here and coming back down, that's one river, but another still going up down river with all this water trying to gather into larger rivers. We still have the potential for some big weather today. But we'll keep watching it for you because I'm expecting more flooding throughout the weekend. Hopefully it just goes somewhere else. Erica?

HILL: Yes, we'll cross our fingers for that. Chad, appreciate it. Thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

HILL: Still to come, your exclusive CNN reporting on how prosecutors in the Justice Department are preparing for a court battle to compel former Trump White House officials to testify about the insurrection. Those details are next.



HILL: Now to a CNN exclusive, Justice Department prosecutors are preparing to fight in court to get former Trump White House officials to testify about the former President's conversations and actions around the insurrection. CNN's Evan Perez live in Washington this morning with those exclusive details and the reporting. So Evan, what more have you learned here?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, what the prosecutors who are doing this investigation is they still want to be able to talk to people who had direct conversations with the former president. They've already confronted this issue in the recent testimony of Greg Jacob and Mark Short, these are former aides of former Vice President Pence. And they asserted executive privilege to not be able to answer -- to not answer certain questions that they were asked by prosecutors when they testified at the grand jury in recent weeks.

And the Justice Department feels obviously that this is something that they should be able to testify to, even though the former President is trying to assert that he has some kind of executive privilege, despite the fact that he is former president. So we expect that they're going to go to court and try to get a judge to compel that testimony. This is something that we expect, obviously, it's going to happen with other witnesses, as prosecutors get closer and closer to the former president.

The key here being that they need that testimony in order to figure out what happened in those key days, especially, you know, in that meeting on January 4th where the former president who was trying to pressure Pence to set aside the election results. Those are the types of meetings and those are the types of conversations that prosecutors want to know more about, Erica.

HILL: Evan, stay with me on this. I also want to bring in CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers. So Evan, as we look at this too, one thing that stands out is we've really seen, right, these individual negotiations with witnesses over the last several months aimed at avoiding a drawn out legal fight. So based on what you're learning, has that calculus really changed there? And if so, why?

PEREZ: What it is, is that they realize that there are certain steps that they're just going to have to take. And my understanding is, you know, the lawyers of the Justice Department have determined that they you know, they believe they have a very, very, very firm grasp of this. They think that they can win these fights in court. Again, this is very untested, right, the idea that a former president can still try to shield some of these conversations. But this is a criminal investigation. This is not just a congressional inquiry so that they believe is worth the fight.

Now, you're right. This may take a little while to litigate, but they believe that they're going to come out on top, and that they will be able to compel these testimonies from people who know a lot, especially because this is a criminal investigation. And that's where the courts have tended to side in these cases in the past, Erica?

HILL: Yes, important to point out. There's also this new reporting "The Washington Post" this morning, Jen, that texts from devices for acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, were lost as a result of a reset messages for the period leading up to January 6th. The Inspector General's Office was reportedly told but didn't press for details or recovery efforts, didn't tell Congress for months. But that, of course, is on the heels of thousands of Secret Service tests being erased as a part of a device reset. So when you look at this, Jennifer, as a former prosecutor, right, you're trying to piece things together to connect the dots. What do you see here when we're talking about to law enforcement agencies and missing messages?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's incredibly frustrating, Erica, I mean, here you are trying to figure out exactly what happened. You know, there was evidence there and it seems to be missing. So obviously, you're going to try to see if there are other ways to get that evidence, see if you can still dig out. You know, sometimes technology has ways of sticking around even when you think it won't, so you obviously want to try to recover it.

But then you have to look at whether you actually have a criminal obstruction of justice issue here, where these text messages and other information are raised purposefully in order to cover something up when they were told to retain them. And finally, I need -- I want them to be looking at the Inspector General. I mean this Inspector General Joseph Ghaffari has had issues in the past about slow walking or refusing to do investigations. And that question is independence.


And here's another example where he violated the law by not informing the DHS Secretary, not informing Congress of this when he first learned of it. So honestly, if I'm Joe Biden and his administration, I'm looking very, very carefully at taking that Inspector General out and replacing him with someone who's truly independent and can get to the bottom of what happened here.

HILL: Evan, to that point, is there any further insight this morning into why the Inspector General's Office took so long to say anything reportedly notified months ago, and we know congressional committees have been asking for this information for months?

PEREZ: Right. And this is not the only time that he has done this, you know, he was called out recently by these committees on Capitol Hill, because he apparently learned about the missing -- these missing messages among these key people at the Secret Service and did not inform the Committees, even though he learned about it months ago. And so those are the big questions that are being asked.

At this point, we don't know whether the, you know, the Inspector General was trying to say that he was being essentially blocked by the Secret Service and by the Homeland Security Department. But that doesn't seem to really explain why he didn't go to Congress, which as Jennifer points out is what he's supposed to do. So we'll see what his responses when he's brought before these congressional committees to explain. HILL: I'm also curious, so if messages and were intentionally deleted or erased, sounds like that would be a violation of the Federal Records Act. What would the consequences be?

RODGERS: Well, there aren't really criminal consequences. Oh, sorry.

PEREZ: No, go ahead, Jen.

RODGERS: Yes. There aren't really criminal consequences for violating the Records Act. You know, obviously, criminal consequences for destruction of evidence, but that's quite hard to prove. So, you know, it's again, it's one of those things, is it a violation? Yes. Are there any enforcement mechanisms for that? Not really. So, there's not really anywhere to go there unless you can meet the burdens of a criminal case, which is quite difficult to do.

HILL: Jennifer Rodgers, Evan Perez, great to see you both this morning. Thank you.

PEREZ: Thanks Erica.

HILL: Coming up, is Nancy Pelosi traveling to Taiwan? The House Speaker could answer that question shortly when she holds a press conference. Stay with us.



HILL: Ukraine and Russia blaming each other following an attack that killed dozens of Ukrainian POWs at a prison in the Russian controlled Donetsk region. At least 53 people were killed in that strike, according to officials with the so called Donetsk People's Republic. More than 70 others were hurt. The Ukraine Prosecutor's Office has now launched an investigation into the attack.

On just a matter of hours from now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will depart for Asia. The big question surrounding her trip this morning of course is whether that travel will include a stop in Taiwan. The Speaker is about to hold her weekly press conference where she should be asked about it.

Joining me now House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Good to have you with us this morning, sir. You know, there's a lot of interest as you know, I know you've been asked about it, about this trip that the Speaker is set to make. She would be the first sitting House Speaker to travel to Taiwan since Newt Gingrich in 1997. Do you believe she should make that stop?

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Look, I think "The Washington Post" said that this is an appropriate thing to do. The timing the Speaker has determined I'm assuming that she may stop because I'll be talking about that. But I've not talked to her. This is the Speaker's decision. I trust her judgment. And I think she's going to do what she thinks is best for our country. And it will be no surprise to the Chinese that she has been a strong opponent of their human rights violations, their trade violations. So that -- this is not a any kind of new thing that is happening. I think the Chinese are overblowing the significance of this visit if in fact that happens. Now I don't know that that's going to happen but that's the speculation.

HILL: So to hear you say that you think that they would be overblowing the significance of it if it happens. What do you see as the significance? What is the real gain here for the U.S. if in fact the Speaker does make that stop?

HOYER: Well, look, we've -- the President has made a very strong comments. The Congress, the United States has made very strong comments and members of the Congress believe that a Taiwan is while we have a one state, but Taiwan is a sovereign independent part. They're their own entity. And that's our policy. I think this is nothing more nor less than re articulating that policy. Other members of Congress have visited Taiwan recently. So that the China these are trying to blow this out of proportion for their own purposes and unjustifiably so in my opinion.


HILL: There's a lot happening in Washington these days.