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At This Hour

Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall in Cuba as Category 3 Storm; Congress Again Races to Avoid Shutdown; Historic Trial for Oath Keepers; Roger Stone Predicted Violence Pre-Election Day. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Kate Bolduan. AT THIS HOUR, hurricane Ian is barreling toward Florida's west coast as a category 3 storm. Putting millions of people at risk.

The hurricane's outer bands are now hitting south Florida and the storm's eye is off of Cuba's coast, moving into the warm waters, which means the storm could grow and get more powerful.

It hit Cuba hard overnight with winds and heavy rain just battering the island. The forecast models have projected it to make landfall in Tampa Bay as a major hurricane.

Storm surge is one of the biggest threats from the storm. And as much as 2 feet of rain could be falling in some parts of Florida from this. Officials there saying right now they are urging people in the storm's path to make the final preparations and, of course, to get out before it is too late.


BOLDUAN: More than 15 million people in Florida are expected to feel the impact of the hurricane. More people along the west coast are being urged to leave and others are boarding up their homes right now. Carlos Suarez is live in Gulfport, Florida, which is just outside of St. Petersburg.

How are people there preparing for this?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so folks out here, businesses are getting ready for this potential impact with hurricane Ian. Now just a few minutes ago, we learned that another 90,000 residents in Hillsborough County, that is the Tampa area, are being told they'll have to evacuate.

So now we have two evacuation orders that are mandatory over in Hillsborough County and two mandatory evacuations here in Pinellas County. In Gulfport, a lot of the businesses, again, they're getting ready.

This one restaurant on the corner here, though, they are still open. They can serve you some food out here on outdoor dining. But you couldn't eat inside because they're putting up plywoods (sic) ahead of Ian's potential track this way. The concern is that storm surge.


SUAREZ: We're talking about five to 10 feet. That is something that governor Ron DeSantis once again underscored in a briefing in Tallahassee earlier this morning.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): There is certain things we could protect against in terms of the wind and the structures and we've got great building codes. But when you have five to 10 feet of storm surge, that is not something that you want to be a part of it. And Mother Nature is a very fierce adversary. So please heed those warnings.


SUAREZ: All right, so Kate, those two mandatory evacuations in Hillsborough County, we're talking about nearly 400,000 residents.

BOLDUAN: Carlos, thank you so much.

And also we heard from Chad, the biggest risk facing the Tampa Bay area, and we also heard from the governor, is the storm surge. Ian is now forecast to bring the highest water levels ever recorded in the region and possibly doubling its previous record. Bill Weir is in the middle of it all.

How bad could it get there?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It could get really bad. In 1985, hurricane Helena set the stage at 4 feet. And this could double that. And any sort of adjustment in that track that Chad was talking about brings some relief to the folks here in St. Pete/Tampa.

If that storm could come up and grinds right into Tampa Bay, those storm surges as we talked about, 15 inches of water could be deadly, could take you down if it is moving. And so that is why they say, you hide from the wind and you run from the water.

To give you a sense of how they're preparing here in St. Pete, they just removed from this parking lot, you know the credit card, the automatic payment kiosk, they're about this tall. They removed them. So they are anticipating that the water is going to get up this high.

I probably wouldn't sleep well tonight if I owned one of these boats. Some people are making it out. Some ladies are planning their hurricane party. So the human nature, as we always do pre-hurricane, it is human nature that will determine how much suffering comes from this. We hope, hope, hope people are as safe as possible.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. It is good to see you, Bill. It will be a very few busy days for you.

Bill is in St. Petersburg. Let's talk to the man in charge. Ken Welch is the mayor of St. Petersburg.

What are you most focused on?

What are your biggest concerns today?

MAYOR BILL WELCH (D-FL), ST. PETERSBURG: We're focusing on getting the message out to act now and move to a safe area.

I was just at that area where Bill was and I hate to hear someone talking about a hurricane party because, at a certain point, these folks will be on their own and we're not going to send first responders out and put them in danger when there are tropical storm force winds.

So my advice is, when you're asked to evacuate, do so. Run from the water and hide from the wind. And we have the science and the data. We know where the storm surge will be but that depends on folks being responsible.

BOLDUAN: Portions of the city are under evacuation orders.

How are the evacuations going so far?

What are you hearing?

WELCH: From what I hear, they're going well. We had heavy traffic on I-4 on the other side of Tampa going out toward Orlando. I think folks understand the impact that this storm could make. And even though the track may have changed a little bit, we're still within that cone.

And Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg, Pinellas in particular, some of the most susceptible areas in the nation to surge but also sea level rise. So I think most folks are getting the message, if you're in that low- lying area or a coastal area you, need to move now.

BOLDUAN: Because the potential of 2 feet of rain in 48 hours combined with the storm surge that Bill Weir was just laying out, what could it look like?

What could that mean for your city?

WELCH: It means we'll see water in places we've never seen it before. When you talk about 10 or 15 inches of rain on top of the surge, that is unprecedented. No infrastructure is build for that.

So we could be looking at impacts to our sewer system, to wastewater. And so that is what folks need to understand, that we've never seen this level of surge threat before. And they need to respond to that in a way that -- that makes sense.

BOLDUAN: So one of the concerns is -- one of the concerns with this one is just how slowly it seems to be moving or is anticipated how slow it will move over the area. It could just sit on top of the Tampa Bay area for 24-48 hours.

What does that mean?


WELCH: That would be the worst case scenario. It might be the storm that we hope would never come. A slow storm that sits there in Tampa Bay would be the worst-case scenario. So we hope it keeps moving, whichever direction, and gets past us so we can move into recovery.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. I saw that HCA Florida Pasadena Hospital in St. Pete has already closed. The hospital announced it had transferred all patients out ahead of the storm.

What does that mean for people in your city as this storm is coming through?

WELCH: Well, you know our medical community is a great partner. And they've gone through this before. And Pasadena is right on the water. It is just west of St. Petersburg. So they've done this before.

They're moved their patients inland and they are really good at making sure everyone is cared for and they get out ahead of the storm. So they do a great job out there.

BOLDUAN: Got to get out ahead of the storm, which is what you say your message is to residents, is to get out and make a plan and do it before -- first responders can't get to you.

When do you think that point is going to be, when people won't be able to get out any more?

WELCH: It depends on the tracking. That is changing. But it is -- it is early Wednesday or late Wednesday or perhaps Thursday. At some point when we get to the 30-35 mile an hour winds, we will not send first responders out.

Now is the time, it's a relatively calm day; you should have your plan and your storm kit and you should know your evac zone. And if you don't go to

Find your evac level. You can find shelters; we've got 25 shelters set up, working with the school board and the county. The infrastructure is there. We just need people to act responsibly and take advantage of that.

BOLDUAN: And a little help or a little less damage coming from Mother Nature. Mayor, thank you very much. We'll stick very close and talk to you soon.

WELCH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the trial begins against the leader of the Oath Keepers and some of his top deputies, charged with seditious conspiracy linked to the Capitol insurrection. We're going to the courthouse next.





BOLDUAN: So the Senate is scheduled to hold an important vote this afternoon. It is a test vote on a government funding bill that would avert a government shutdown on Friday. But that plan on the table has some issues. CNN's Manu Raju is live in Washington to explain this to us.

So what is the problem here?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the problem has to deal with the deal that was cut between Joe Manchin and the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer to expedite the permitting process of major energy projects, to allow them to move quickly through the environmental review process, including a major pipeline in West Virginia.

Now Manchin and Schumer cut that deal to secure Manchin's support for the Inflation Reduction Act. which is that sweeping Democratic measure that was just enacted just a few weeks ago.

Now Manchin and Schumer have to figure out a legislative vehicle to attach that permitting deal to. So they decided to try to attach it to this bill to keep the government funded past this Friday.

But it has encountered stiff pushback, mainly from Republicans. They don't want to give Manchin any credit for it and plan to vote against it en masse.

And also some liberals, including Bernie Sanders, has raised concern about the environmental impacts of the proposal. So even though there is support between the leadership and Joe Manchin and the White House for this deal, it is likely to face -- not and overcome a 60-vote threshold to overcome a Republican filibuster today.

How does Chuck Schumer get this through?

There are significant provisions in there, including $12 billion in aid to Ukraine, money to deal with the flooding in Jackson, Mississippi, not to mention keeping the government open past this Friday.

But they are likely to probably ultimately pass this stopgap measure by the end of the week. But again, a bumpy road and up to the brink of a shutdown once again.

BOLDUAN: Once again. It is good to see you, even though we're right back to the beginning with a government shutdown. It is good to see you. Also in Washington AT THIS HOUR, jury selection is underway in the

trial of five members of the Oath Keepers, that far right militia group.

The group's leader, Stewart Rhodes, among those on trial, charged with seditious conspiracy in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Whitney Wild is outside of the federal courthouse as this is getting underway.

What is happening here?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're in jury selection. So much hinges on the jury here. Right now what we're seeing is the defense counsel has continued to argue, as of late Friday, that it is just -- it is too difficult to get an impartial jury here. And they have continued to press for a change of jurisdiction.

That request was denied again by the judge today, who has made the point that around 60 percent of the jurors here will be basically removed for cause, meaning that, when they filled out a specific jury questionnaire, there was information in there to suggest that the jurors could not be impartial.

So it is 60 percent of 150. I mean 150 people were brought in for this jury pool. So that still leaves a significant number of jurors to go through. That is how the case is beginning today.

This is the capstone of what could be up to a seven-week long trial. As we look now at the charges, just to lay this out clearly for the viewers, all five of the defendants are facing, among other charges, seditious conspiracy. That carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.


WILD: It is the most aggressive case that the Department of Justice is bringing. It is certainly the capstone case at this point, a case they've been working on since shortly after January 6.

Because when you look at the list of defendants today, the first defendant who was arrested, Jessica Watkins, she was arrested January 18th, 2021. So again something they've been working toward for the last 1.5 years or so.

The defense will argue that the Oath Keepers meant no harm with their actions, that they were here to maintain peace should riots erupt. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Just getting underway. It will be a long road. Good to see you. Thank you.

Joining me for more is CNN legal analyst Paul Callan.

Whitney laid out really well what is going on here. But the Justice Department prosecutors are arguing for the first time in more than a decade that a group of Americans plotted to violently try to oppose the U.S. government. What do you think this trial is going to look like?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you're absolutely right about that. The last time they used this statute, it is very rarely used, was against terrorists who threatened to bomb the FBI and the United Nations. It was an act of Islamic terrorism and they got a conviction.

So they don't bring charges under this statute very often because they're fearful that the First Amendment rights of people to criticize the government kind of become an element of the criminal charges.

The Oath Keepers here, you know, have wild meetings, where they're saying they're going to overthrow the government of the United States and stop the transfer of power and help Trump stay in power. And that is why they're armed.

They're claiming they're just expressing their First Amendment right to free speech and they have this strange defense under something called the Insurrection Act. They say they were waiting for Trump to give them an order as a militia to come to the defense of the United States.

BOLDUAN: And that is what I wanted to ask you about, what you make of that defense. Because as Whitney lays out, the defense is essentially that they meant no harm and were there to keep the peace.

They were there waiting defensively, if you will, if president -- if president Trump did invoke the Insurrection Act.

What do you make of that?

CALLAN: It is a bizarre defense to assert. By asserting the Insurrection Act, they are saying they did arm up and they became what they thought was a militia to, in essence, attack the Capitol if ordered to by president Trump.

Now that is what the prosecutors are trying to prove. They're saying, however, that the president has the right to call for their help as a militia. But nobody has ever designated them as a militia. They're just a private group of people, who run around with AR-15 type weapons and fancy themselves as defenders of the United States.

So it is a ridiculous defense and it is probably going to convict them in the end.

BOLDUAN: That is very interesting. There is also new video that have been obtained by CNN of Roger Stone I wanted to ask you about. He's an ally of Donald Trump.

In one of the videos he's heard saying the day before the 2020 election and in front of a documentary film crew that he has no interest in waiting to counts votes before contesting the election. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROGER STONE, LONG-TIME TRUMP ALLY (from captions): Excellent. (INAUDIBLE) the (INAUDIBLE) violence or (INAUDIBLE) the voting. Let's get right to the violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Let's get right to it.

STONE (from captions): Shoot to kill. See an Antifa, shoot to kill. (INAUDIBLE) them. Done with this bullshit.


BOLDUAN: So Stone responded to the footage. He said in a statement, in part, to CNN, he said this.

"I challenge the accuracy and authenticity of these videos and believe they have been manipulated and selectively edited.

"I also point out that filmmakers do not have the legal right to use them. How ironic that Kim Kardashian and I are both subjected to computer manipulated videos on the same day."

He also says, "The excerpts that you provided below prove nothing. Certainly they do not prove I had anything to do with the events of January 6th. That being said, it clearly shows I've advocated for lawful congressional and judicial options."

Having someone, Paul, close to the president, as Stone is, and on camera, talking about violence before -- about violence the day before the election, what does that do?

How does that impact kind the overall understanding of January 6?

CALLAN: Well, I think it at least suggests that there was some planning that went on before that.

I mean how would Stone know otherwise, that maybe violence would occur, that enough people would be there to cause violence to the Capitol?

He's very close to the president. He's been -- you know, Roger Stone has been a dirty trickster for politicians back as far as Richard Nixon. And he should have packed his bag and gone home after Nixon went to jail because he has this belief that these dirty tricks to overthrow elections are perfectly proper in American electoral history.

And they're not. And he's fearful now he might be reindicted for a crime relating to his attempt to overthrow the election illegally.

BOLDUAN: After Nixon left the presidency for sure.


BOLDUAN: Paul, good to see you. Thank you very much.

This just in: former President Trump scoring a legal victory in court. A federal appeals court has reversed an earlier ruling that declared Trump could not be shielded by the Justice Department in a defamation lawsuit.

The Justice Department under both Trump and Biden has argued that the U.S. government should be substituted for Trump as a defendant. Such a move would have the effect of forcing a dismissal in the defamation case.

Carroll sued Trump for defamation back in 2019 after he denied that he had raped her. We're following that.

And authorities in Europe are investigating suspicious leaks in critical gas pipelines that run from Russia to Germany. Sabotage is not being ruled out at this moment. Details in a live report next.