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Houston Expected To See Prolonged Freezing Temperatures; No Directive: FBI Agents, Tech Execs Deny Government Ordered Hunter Biden Story Suppressed On Twitter; Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser (R-LA), Is Interviewed About Winter Storm. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 23, 2022 - 12:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: We're getting in some new pictures out of Newnan, Georgia right there. You can see just outside Atlanta. You can see the wind damage from at that house. Oh, that's so unfortunate. Authorities are getting several reports of downed trees across the area. We do know that wind gusts this morning were forecast to reach more than 40 miles per hour. Power outages also reported. I mean, if it isn't snow and it isn't wind, now you've got the wind, if it isn't snow and rain and ice and you've got these wind gusts to contend with as well. So there is that in the Atlanta area. Let's go even further south right now. People are bracing for their coldest Christmas in decades. Houston is expected to spend nearly two days in below freezing conditions. Temperatures there are already just in the teens. Normally the high in Texas this time of year is around like the mid- 60s.

Let me bring in right now Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia for more on this. Commissioner, thanks for coming on. I mean, there are other areas in the country that are colder, yes, but there are a few places that are as unseasonably cold as what Texas is dealing with right now. What's happening there?

ADRIAN GARCIA, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS DISTRICT 2 COMMISSIONER: You got it right, Kate, and thank you for having me. We are experiencing unprecedented cold for this time of the year, but we're resilient, we're working through everything and we're being very thoughtful about our residents who typically don't have to deal with this kind of weather. So we are preparing for yet another day of this. But, you know, so far the news is good. We've been able to accommodate at least 1,000 people in our respective warming centers, probably more, because we have good faith-based organizations and other committed neighbors that are helping their unfortunate neighbors out. So we're very confident about that.

Our energy, though, if you recall, during winter storm Uri, our grid failed us, but this time it seems to be holding strong. Although we do have 17,000 homes across the county that are without power, 300 of those have been restored thus far, but those don't seem to be grid related, so we're very hopeful about that. BOLDUAN: And this isn't -- one thing about it is this isn't just a one day freeze. This is a multiday event that you guys are going to be dealing with. I mean we're seeing that in other places in the country too. What does that mean for you all? And how does that complicate things?

GARCIA: Well, it complicates things because we have to make sure that our rescue and recovery operations are fully functioning. It also complicates it in the aspect that, you know, right now, as I mentioned, our grid seems to be holding out. It may fail us later, we hope it doesn't, but it could potentially be a problem for us in the foreseeable future. And then the thousand people that are in warming centers, that number could grow. So it challenges us on all fronts.

But we're resilient here. We work through all these details. We come together. But it also is creating challenges for those who are traveling. We've had over 80 flights that have been impacted in some way, canceled thus far. And maybe there will be more. Our industry, our oil and gas industry, which they're rooted in my precinct, they're having to flare. This was expected, but we're having to watch it just the same. And so our pollution control operations are up and running and monitoring all those things as well.

But we want to make sure that above all, that our water system stays intact and healthy, which seems to be the case at the moment. But again, the longer the freeze last, the stronger it challenges all of our respective systems.


BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And what about, you know, Texans who are planning to hit the roads, travel out of town for the holidays? What do you want them to know?

GARCIA: Well, obviously, if it can be avoided, don't go out there. We are fortunate, at least in our region, we are having no precipitation. However, that can obviously change as you know Mother Nature. So right now, our roads are passable. We are not having any particular challenges. I did stand up my public works operations to provide that coverage for our roads if necessary. We haven't had to do that.

However, the further you get away from this particular area, the road conditions could very well changes. So we want people to think about it. If you don't need to make that travel, please don't do so. If you do, then obviously, you know, take your time, be patient, be careful. Try to monitor the conditions as you're moving. Stay in touch with the respective state alert systems. But, you know, my first recommendation is if you don't have to make the travel, please don't do it.

BOLDUAN: Commissioner, thanks for coming on. Good luck over the next couple of days. Really appreciate it.

GARCIA: Thank you for having us.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. CNN has some new reporting we want to bring to you about the

allegations that Twitter suppressed stories about Hunter Biden. We're going to lay out a CNN investigation what a CNN investigation has uncovered and found that's next.



BOLDUAN: The Tennessee energy company has just confirmed what the mayor of Memphis just told us earlier this hour that the city is going to be starting to implement rolling blackouts, meaning residents are going to be losing power for about 30 minutes, for up to two times a day in the middle of these brutally freezing temperatures and cold, they don't know how long it's going to last. The Tennessee Valley Authority is requiring all local power companies to reduce their electrical load by between 5 and 10 percent. The reason being is, if they don't or what they're trying to do is to avoid bigger, more major outages across the Memphis area. We're going to bring you updates on this as we get them in.

I do want to turn to this, though, which is CNN has new reporting on the allegations pushed by Elon Musk that the U.S. government ordered twitter to suppress stories about Hunter Biden, his laptop, and his e- mails. Evan Perez joins me now with what the CNN investigation has uncovered in all of this. Evan, let's start with the bottom line here, which is that Elon Musk says that these Twitter files show the government ordered Twitter to censor a New York post story, and I believe it was October 2020 about Hunter Biden's laptop. Do these internal Twitter files and CNN's reporting show this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They do not, Kate. And look, we spent some time myself, Donie O'Sullivan and Brian Fung talking to people on both sides of these conversations, both tech executives and the FBI. We've looked at these twitter files that have been released by a group of journalists that Elon Musk chose to share some of these internal documents. And what emerges from that is no direct order from the FBI to Twitter to suppress the story, which was done for a few days ahead of the in October of 2020.

Instead, what appears to have happened is Twitter executives were primed. They were ready for what they thought was coming, which was a Russian disinformation effort, and they thought this was it. It is something that obviously emerges. You can see a lot of confusion in the behind the scenes at Twitter as they were trying to grapple with what to do with this story.

They all admit, by the way, that this was a mistake to suppress that story. But there's enough in these files to raise questions, and I think that's one of the things that the Republican lawmakers are latching on to. Certainly, James Baker is a former FBI official who's now -- who was working at Twitter at the time he has since been fired. And I think you're going to see an effort to get to more communications because something could emerge from additional searching by the Republicans. BOLDUAN: And can we just dig into a couple of the other major allegations? I mean, there's a lot to this, so I just want to explain it, and you're doing a great job of explaining it to folks. The major allegations that have been made by the reporters with whom Musk has chosen to share these internal documents with, one of them is that the day before "The New York Post" story publishes, an FBI agent uses a secure channel to send over a batch of documents to a Twitter executive. What's that about?

PEREZ: Right, so there were ten documents that were being sent by an FBI agent in San Francisco to Yoel Roth, who is a high level executive at Twitter. And what you see there, according to one of those tweets of these Twitter files, there is some insinuation that there was some, perhaps some order that was being sent from the FBI. This is the day before "The New York Post" story publishes.

We talked to the FBI, and an FBI official told us that eight of those documents were actually related to malign foreign influences, the stuff that the FBI routinely sends to social media companies saying, here's some information about some accounts that are posting things that may be connected to a foreign government. You guys do whatever you want to do with it. This is up to you. Two of the documents did have to do with an investigation on possible election or voter suppression. So that's the explanation for those 10 documents.


BOLDUAN: Another claim is that Twitter was getting paid millions by the FBI. Have you found anything on that?

PEREZ: Yes. So $3.4 million, according to -- you'll see a tweet that explains that there is some, perhaps some connection, you know, in the relationship between Twitter and the FBI. The FBI says that under federal law, companies are allowed to seek reimbursement for the cost they incur to respond into FBI records requests, for instance, subpoenas. If they have to comply with anything that the FBI is ordering them to supply as part of an investigation, they are allowed to seek reimbursement of that. And that goes across the board for, you know, service providers like phone companies and so on. So Twitter is one of those companies. And that figure is what that explains, $3.4 million.

BOLDUAN: Just kind of stepping back and looking at just how much -- there's been a lot of focus on how much interaction was going on between Twitter and the FBI. Can you explain why the FBI is even doing this?

PEREZ: Yes, so the FBI says and Twitter says that all of this is in part because of 2016, right, where the intelligence community found that Russians, the Russian intelligence agencies, used social media to help interfere with U.S. elections. And that includes the hacking of Democratic campaigns, dumping files that were intended to hurt the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. And so the companies and the FBI were trying to figure out a way to stop that from happening again in 2020. And so that's what you see in some of these Twitter files that have been published. I'll read you just a part of the statement from the FBI pushing back on these claims from Elon Musk and others. And they say this is part of the traditional effort that the FBI makes to work with social media companies. And they say, it is unfortunate that conspiracy theorists and others are feeding the American public misinformation with the sole purpose of attempting to discredit the agency.

The bottom line from the FBI is that, you know, they haven't -- there is nothing that has emerged that shows them going over the line. Kate, it's clear, though, we're going to hear a lot more of this because Republicans are promising to investigate this stuff, even though, at this point, you know, even -- you know, some of the journalists that have been digging deep on behalf of Elon Musk have so far said that there was no direct order from the FBI to censor these stories.

BOLDUAN: Great work, Evan. Thanks so much. I really appreciate you bringing it on. Thank you.

So thousands without power in Louisiana as temperatures are taking a drastic dip, state officials are warning that they're preparing to close bridges if conditions worsen. Louisiana's Lieutenant Governor joins us.



BOLDUAN: Right now, more than 14,000 people are in the dark in Louisiana as temperatures are plummeting into the low 20s and even the teens in some areas. Governor John Bell Edwards has also put out a warning that the state is preparing for what needs to prepare for what could be a, quote, life threatening storm there. Joining me right now is Louisiana's Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser. Lieutenant Governor, thank you so much for being on. Again, your entire state is under a hard freeze warning. What does that mean for Louisiana?

LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER (R-LA): Well, it's something we're not used to. Not only a hard freeze, but several days of hard freezing all across Louisiana, even down to the southern tip, something we never see. So it's going to be a tough couple of days. People aren't used to driving and surely the houses, especially the mobile homes, are not prepared for this type of cold.

BOLDUAN: I also saw that yesterday that the Louisiana DoT said it was preparing to close some bridges and some of the raised roadways because of wintery conditions they're preparing to, have you needed to do that yet? Do you think that's going to have to happen?

NUNGESSER: Well, it depends on the weather. You know, this wind is drying up a lot of the rain we had last night, but in some of these areas where the roads are still wet as this temperature drops, that may happen and people need to be prepared for that. We're also concerned we're out in a state park right now feeding some of those people from the tornado that have moved into travel trails in the state park and wanting to make sure we can provide a warm place for them during these times.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And honestly, Lieutenant Governor actually gets me to what I was going to ask you about, because you and I have talked too many times over the past year, always in the aftermath of Louisiana getting hit hard. I mean, you guys have been hit pretty hard with severe weather over the past year, multiple times. Last year's hurricane to the recent tornado outbreak, as you're just talking about. And now you're not even getting spared from this winter storm that's blowing through, taking hit after hit. What does this mean for all the people in your state?

NUNGESSER: Well, Louisiana has helped their neighbors out. We're out here today in a state park feeding and bringing gifts to those kids that lost everything from the tornadoes and making sure they have somewhat of a decent Christmas both here in South Louisiana and North Louisiana where those tornadoes touch down. But you're right, we get our fair share of disasters, and this one is surely a new one for Louisiana. This cold for many days is something we just have to learn to deal with, something we've never seen before.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, I was just talking to the Mayor of Memphis, who they're seeing something they've never seen before either. And they're looking at rolling blackouts because of the load on the power grid. Are you guys prepared for all this?

NUNGESSER: Well, I don't think we have rolling blackouts because of the freeze of power lines and outages in certain areas. Obviously, that causes the power outages, which is even more concerning especially when you've got elderly people in some of these areas without power, it could be life threatening. So we need to watch that in every area where we see those power outages to make sure those people are being cared for.


BOLDUAN: All right, Lieutenant Governor, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much. And thanks for being there to help the people who are in those trailers trying to recover from those tornadoes. That's really kind of you to be there doing that. Good luck over the next couple of days. It's going to be a rough one for a lot of people in Louisiana. Thank you.

NUNGESSER: Thank you. Merry Christmas.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. You too.

Thanks so much for watching, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. CNN Newsroom starts after this break.